Retailers have focused on inventory management as the major driver for RFID adoption. Other industries have deployed RFID for asset management and access control use cases.
Seeking an even higher return for their investment, retailers are beginning to move into those use cases as well. Although the primary driver will always be inventory accuracy and the consumer engagement that results from having real-time inventory visibility, use cases like asset tracking and workforce management offer real value to retailers.
Marks & Spencer, which is now tagging nearly all of its inventory representing 500 millions items a year, is aggressively pursuing asset tracking for equipment like roll cages and display racks. The move could save the retailer millions in cost avoidance.
“We have a huge amount of equipment, and every year we spend tens of millions to buy more equipment because we don’t know where it is,” says Richard Jenkins, head of RFID strategic development at M&S. “We keep buying more and more because we’re terrified of running out. In a world where we use RFID to cycle count, if we knew what we had we wouldn’t have to be spending all this money on equipment.”
Even items like mannequins and artwork that adorns the walls of many specialty retailers are starting to be tagged.
“Once you have flushed out the basic use cases, this is one of the extended use cases we are starting to see,” says JP Kamel, a principal with retail consultancy RFID Sherpas, which helps major retailers to deploy RFID. “Asset tracking is by no means a new use case, but in the retail world, we are seeing programs that track product samples and programs that track physical assets used within stores.
“The value of artwork across a large fleet of stores can be worth millions of dollars. Knowing where it is, and knowing that it is accounted for, is a big deal.”
Macy’s is using RFID to drill deep down into the purchasing process. A leader in retail deployment, Macy’s is taking advantage of cycle counting in its stores to acquire a better understanding of the boxes and bags that are consumed with purchases.
“We are starting to see some action around fixtures, company-owned vehicles and things like distribution equipment,” says Su Doyle, director of North American Field Marketing for Checkpoint Systems. “Marks & Spencer is unique because they are tagging everything, so this is the next logical step for them.”
Several retailers are considering tracking store associates as a way to boost worker productivity. Some retailers are also beginning to inquire about cross-referencing the location data from RFID with loss prevention programs to get a better indication of who might be involved with theft.
Retailers that already have beacon and Wi-Fi technology deployed can integrate those technologies with RFID badges on employees to create sophisticated paging systems. By knowing the location of a store associate by as close as two feet, retailers can make sure the closest store associate responds to a customer page.
Although tracking associates is not a primary use case, it is on the radar of several major retailers.