This guest blog post is provided by Kris Doane, RFID Program Manager at Checkpoint Systems.
For the last two years, I’ve been invited to speak at the RFID in Fashion event hosted by NordicID to share my experiences as program manager of the chain-wide deployment of RFID at American Apparel. This year’s event served as a stark contrast from last year — and was a strong indicator of how much RFID in retail has evolved in the past 12 months.
While there were many apparel retailers present, I also saw many department stores and third-party logistics providers (3PLs) as well. And while last year’s audience was evenly represented by loss prevention and store operations personnel, this year it was comprised mostly of store operations, with some marketing and business development personnel in attendance. This is the first time I’ve seen these titles at RFID events like this, which signals stronger and broader adoption by retailers.
Several attendees were involved in “sales solutions” such as associate training, chain-wide processes and the technology of selling. Meanwhile, in the interactive sessions it was clear that the focus has shifted from pure “RFID for shrink management” to “RFID for Omnichannel retail” as well as (in the case of marketing and business development staff) “RFID for an improved customer experience.”
The mood of retailer’s has also shifted. While there were a number of retailers still evaluating RFID at last year’s meeting, this year I saw more retailers assuming that they are proceeding with RFID. Everyone I met was either in the process of planning an RFID project or had already started with vendor selection and deployment. I had several discussions that involved the use of exit doors in RFID solutions, integrating with point of sale (POS), and the consideration of hands-free solutions.
In 2012 there was much discussion about how to get started with cycle counting and inventory management. Based upon lessons learned, this year I spoke about the importance of compliance to a successful deployment, drawing upon my experiences at American Apparel and from chain-wide deployments at Checkpoint Systems.
It’s one thing to have accurate inventory on day one. It’s another to put systems and processes in place to ensure accurate inventory counts over time. As recently as last year, I created custom reports and email updates to encourage American Apparel’s store associates to be in compliance with the retailer’s inventory counting and restocking processes. Now, solution vendors like Checkpoint have RFID software with built-in checks and balances to ensure compliance.
Essentially, we’ve found that it’s not enough to have a top down mandate that employees must use RFID. We need to enable employees to use RFID as well as educating them on why it is important and how it can save them time. For instance, we found at American Apparel that if employees cycle counted well, they actually had to do less work. But if the cycle count was inconsistent or infrequent, more items would show up missing and they would need to spend hours finding those products in the backroom. In fact, we found that a 15 to 45-minute investment could mean savings of two to three hours of other work.
As the deployment progressed, we realized the importance of providing instant feedback at all levels, letting everyone know what was working and what needed fixing. As a result, we made sure that everyone at the district and corporate level knew what was going on, which led to better results.
In fact, the important lesson learned was that it’s not just about the technology – whether that is shiny new tools, better tags or improved readers – it’s making sure that the solution supports change management, and properly putting into place new policies and procedures — and the tools to measure their success.