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Here’s why apparel and footwear retailers represent such a sweet spot for item level RFID

I dropped $90 on a new pair of Timberland boots for my 15-year-old son over the weekend. Ouch. And although I got over the expenditure quick enough, what sticks in my mind is the amount of time it took the Foot Locker sales associate to find the product in the back room.

The rep actually said “be back in a few minutes” when he left to locate the pair of size 13s. So I timed him. And he returned in just under five minutes. Aside from the unacceptable inconvenience of making a customer wait that long (I’d have had to wait another five minutes if that size didn’t fit), just imagine how many more shoes Foot Locker could sell if those lost minutes in the back room were converted to productive customer-facing sales time.

Enter item level RFID. My Foot Locker experience is a classic example of how the footwear and apparel sectors represent such a sweet spot for item level RFID technology. Had an RFID tag been attached to that pair of Timberland boots, my wait time likely would have been 30 seconds or less. I’d have left the store happier, and the sales associate would be on to the next customer.

So lets just take a guess that the average customer sends the sales rep back one more time to try on another size. So that’s about eight minutes spent in the back room on each customer.  If a store sees 10 customers an hour, that equates to over 60 minutes an hour of potential sales time per hour spent in the back room by sales associates. Consider that Foot Locker runs nearly 1,200 stores in the North America, and I’ve got to think the customer experience could be greatly improved. And just think about the significant sales lift that Foot Locker could achieve from the product visibility provided by item-level tagging.

I’m not sure if Foot Locker is a member of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, but the AAFA is part of the RFID Item Level Initiative that was unveiled earlier this month by retailers, manufacturer and trade associations. The group’s goal is to accelerate the pace at which item level tagging is rolled out at retail outlets. Walmart, for example, is already tagging men’s underwear and jeans, and is expected to expand on that rollout next year. And industry sources say that JC Penney has mandated that certain SKUs of footwear products must carry item level RFID tags by March 2011.

So the retail industry gets it. I’m looking forward to the day when those trips to the stock room are eliminated altogether by the use of RFID. And it’ll be even better when I can skip the line at the checkout and simply swipe the shoe box with my RFID or NFC-enabled smart phone and be on my way.

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