RFID in retail continues to gain steam. Retailers large and small are deploying the technology, and those with established programs in place are expanding the scope of the products covered.
Macy’s, which has emerged as a leader in RFID adoption, is rapidly moving beyond apparel tagging. This month consumer goods manufacturer Lifetime Brands started shipping eight SKUs of RFID tagged product to the retailer, including items like cutlery sets and specialty knives from its Farberware line.
Lifetime Brands will up the ante in August when it begins to ship an additional 250-300 SKUs to Macy’s, including kitchen tools, cutlery and “gadget” items like can openers. Moving from apparel tagging to items with large amounts of metal represents a major initiative for Macy’s and a real sign of the technology’s maturation, since tagging items like metal pots and pans traditionally interfered with RFID read rates.
“That’s our next challenge,” says Jerry Glinnen, compliance manager at Lifetime Brands, Inc. “We had a unique situation because most retailers today start with apparel or footwear and the hard lines, which is what we are, are the last to be thought of. Some of these products present a problem sometimes in terms of tag placement.”
Aside from Macy’s increased product scope, Kohl’s is moving forward with its RFID deployment. According to industry sources, the retailer recently informed some vendors that it will require RFID tags on all products from national brands beginning Aug. 1. Kohl’s hopes to have compliance from private label brands even sooner. The retailer is focusing its initial rollout on apparel products and jewelry items.
Glinnen says that Lifetime Brands isn’t expected to begin shipping RFID-tagged product to Kohl’s until sometime next year. However, Lifetime Brands is considering tagging all of its goods at the point of manufacture overseas for those retailers demanding RFID. The company sees the move as a way in to increase quality and compliance with retail customers.
“Our retail partners are extremely important to us,” says Glinnen. “We jump through hoops for our retail partners.”
Glinnen notes that most retailers keep quality scorecards for their vendors that determine how many incoming cartons of a shipment require audits. Vendors with a good track record and a clean scorecard have a lower percentage of having shipments flagged for audits. However, a series of errors can result in 100 percent inspection of an incoming order. Usually, the vendor is billed for the cost of the inspection and receives an additional penalty for any errors found in that shipment.
“That can be very expensive,” says Glinnen, “so we are considering tagging all of our products produced overseas with RFID for specific retailers that use RFID. Then when it comes into our warehouse we can scan those cartons and pick out any errors before we ship that carton to the retailer. We’re absorbing the cost to tag overseas, but cost isn’t the most important thing. What’s most important is that scorecard. If I can be a certified vendor with a retailer like Kohl’s, it allows our product to get to the sales floor two or three days faster.”
Glinnen sees the overall business gains from more accurate shipments, including the likelihood that buyers will place larger orders with certified vendors, as far outweighing the cost of source tagging.
In addition, by tagging its products at the source, Lifetime Brands will be ready to comply when other retailers request that products be shipped with RFID tags.