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Lululemon relies on RFID for expanded inventory use cases

A couple weeks ago I was shopping for a pair of basketball sneakers at a major sporting goods chain. When a store associate finally got around to helping me, I asked if they had a certain style in a Size 12. To my surprise, he scanned the barcode on the sample and said they had two pairs available.

Then I got to thinking. How cool would it be if the chain had an app I could download, and I could scan the product to view inventory myself. Well, that’s exactly what high-end apparel retailer Lululemon is doing. Or something pretty close.

Jonathan Aiken, director, IT, Retail Store Technology Operations, lululemon

In a LinkedIn post this week, Jonathan Aitken, Lululemon’s IT director for Retail and RFID, described how the system works.

The app, available in android as well as iOS, uses the phone’s camera to scan the barcode (not an RFID tag) on the hang tag and pulls up the product detail page (PDP) from Lululemon’s ecommerce site. It then uses the retailer’s back end integrations to RFID to do a real time inventory check across all stores, sorted by the ones closest to the retail location, based on the phone’s location.

Aitken also gave some insight into the complexity of Lululemon’s RFID ecosystem, which includes solutions from Tyco, Avery Dennison, TSL, Zebra, Spencer, Fujitsu, Trextel, AT&T and others. Lululemon has reported inventory accuracy of 98 percent or greater due to RFID.

According to the blog post:

The journey to accuracy started with an Avery RFID tag being applied to a hang tag attached to my shirt at one of our vendor factories. The product then made its way to a warehouse. It was then allocated to a store where it was received into the Tyco TrueVUE RFID system by an educator using a TSL 1128 RFID sled bluetooth paired to an Apple iPod running the Tyco TrueVUE app.

Then once a week our team of educators in every store cycle count the entire store front and back, a process that takes 2 of them less than 2 hours. This trues up the inventory to account for shrink and movement within the store. The cycle count also makes the daily replenishment process accurate, so our employees always know what is in the front of the store and what is in the back of the store and how much to restock to the floor. Once a week the system also updates the allocations team so they know what to send to the stores even if there was shrink.

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Whenever a product is sold, the RFID tag is read at the point of sale and the RFID unique EPC code is sent to the Tyco TrueVUE system. This then decrements the inventory that is available. The remaining inventory data is published to the cloud where our e-commerce (and mobile) apps can see what is available in all stores. It also sends a signal to the store’s restock report to bring one more to the front if there is one available in the back.

As previously reported by RFID 24-7, Lululemon has deployed RFID in all of its North America locations for well over a year.

“This technology is a powerful new tool in creating seamless guest experiences across all channels and has greatly enhanced our ability to access inventory quickly across all channels and locations,” said CEO Laurent Potdevin during the company’s earnings conference call in 2015.

Miguel Almeida, executive vice president of digital at Lululemon, says that RFID drives buy-online, pick-up-in-store, a critical initiative to improve the guest experience across channels.

“That’s something that our guests have been telling us that they really want to see from us,” he said. “The RFID that we have in North America will enable us now to accelerate the testing, learning of those experiences. I’m mostly excited about how RFID technology and beacon technology will help us learn about guest behavior as they are buying and browsing products in our stores.”

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