In June, I was among more than 1,000 attendees at the GS1 Connect conference in Austin, Tex., where retailers, manufacturers and solution providers were encouraged to move business forward through the use of GS1 standards.
There was much discussion among retail and supply chain executives regarding a variety of challenges they face and how to address them. In the end, five takeaways came through loud and clear, all consistent with the overall theme that standards must go hand in hand with RFID and other technologies to address the enormous challenges that face retailers today.
More retailers are rolling out RFID for omnichannel operations
Ready or not, the buying behavior of today’s connected consumers have put omnichannel at the front and center of retail selling and merchandising strategies. Suppliers and retailers are focusing on win-win scenarios for inventory visibility, predictive analytics and fulfillment strategies, three areas that are crucial to achieve successful omnichannel programs. To attain this, all parties need to be on the same page. This means that when retailers design strategies, they must have the buy-in and support of their suppliers.
For example, inventory visibility is best achieved through RFID source tagging and ensuring consistent item identification via standards-based product attributes, so that parties in all channels refer to specific items in the same way without ambiguity. By the same token, predictive analytics requires retailer/supplier collaboration for demand forecasting, manufacturing and distribution flexibility. The same is true in any fulfillment strategy, where both sides must work together to maximize results of targeted promotions, personalization and buying analytics.
Data accuracy and quality impact everything
While quality inventory data provided by RFID on merchandise drives replenishment, accurate product attributes drive sales. Data quality is more than simply attributes – the right nomenclature is also important. Is that UHD TV the same as the 4K TV? How about that black mascara vs. midnight mascara? If two descriptions mistakenly describe the same product, consumers will be confused and retailers won’t have an accurate count of what they do or don’t have in stock in stores or online. I heard horror stories at the show of items being shipped from distribution centers to retail outlets multiple times and of retailers shipping the wrong products to consumers. Another concern for retailers is putting the wrong items on clearance.
On the data quality side, RFID can provide retailers with accurate inventory counts to reduce inventory buffers and ensure the most efficient shipping of merchandise within the supply chain and to consumers. Such accuracy is crucial as consumers continue to embrace the notion of buying online and picking up their items in store.
Standards will enable the marketplace to move faster, not slower
They let retail supply chain participants share data consistently, ensure the right product is ordered and delivered, and provide insight into products. As a result, the right products can get to the right destination faster and more efficiently. For example, EDI and RFID standards enable better data sharing between partners, including manufacturers, distributors/3PLs, warehouses, e-commerce and brick and mortar stores. All of these must be linked together. Because standards help industry players and consumers, retailers and suppliers were challenged to adopt them. “Focus your market differentiation on your products, collaborate on the supply chain,” they were told.
Big data will play a major role
GS1 keynote speaker Jennifer Golbeck, director of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland, emphasized that huge amounts of consumer data is accumulating not only via online sites, but also at brick and mortar stores. In the same way that online retailers have accumulated information on the products browsed and researched, the time spent on a product webpage, the contents of a consumer’s shopping cart, etc., retailers are now using RFID, iBeacons, NFC, BLE and other location technologies to garner similar shopping behavior in the physical world. That data is being mined for predictive analysis of consumer behavior and for demand forecasting and logistics planning between retailers and their suppliers. In the latter case, they can proactively stock each individual store with the appropriate amounts and type of merchandise. Data from third-party sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. is also feeding minable data.
Supply chains matter more than ever
The supply chain has been extended from the warehouse all the way to the customer. Warehousing and distribution strategies are changing with the on-demand customer experience. Buy-online and pick-up-in-store (BOPUS) implementations have introduced the need for inventory visibility and inventory levels across the enterprise to be coordinated. As such, enhanced supply chain visibility can lead to improved traceability, compliance, asset protection and profitability.
The Bottom line? Using RFID alone, without incorporating standards from GS1 isn’t enough to address tough retail challenges, such as omnichannel. Instead, employing both will give retailers a leg up in lowering out of stocks, while increasing customer satisfaction, revenues and margins.
Anurag Nagpal is director of RFID Solutions at OATSystems, a division of Checkpoint Systems. He has been involved in more than 50 RFID supply chain and logistics deployments in retail, industrial manufacturing, aerospace and healthcare. He comments on supply chain automation on Twitter at @anurag_nagpal