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Kohl’s completes chain-wide RFID deployment

With another NRF Big Show in the books, it’s clear that RFID is exploding in the retail sector. Kohl’s stole the show this week by going public about its chain-wide deployment in the denim, shoes and men’s basics product categories, but there were many other deployment stories and exciting product innovations at the Big Show in New York.

Inventory accuracy is still the sweet spot for RFID in retail, but it’s clear that consumer-facing apps — such as the RFID-enabled kiosks being piloted by Kohl’s and the RFID-enabled fitting rooms demonstrated in the Microsoft and Motorola booths — will also be long-term winners when it comes to RFID use cases.

Kohl's has deployed RFID in three apparel categories at all of its stores and is rolling out connected fitting rooms.

“There were some big retailers at the show and RFID was clearly a topic that they came prepared to discuss,” says JP Kamel, a principal with retail RFID consultancy RFID Sherpas, which helped Kohl’s roll out RFID.

Kohl’s announced on Tuesday that it has completed its deployment chain-wide in three categories. The retailer began piloting RFID at 25 stores last spring and was live in all of its stores in November. The move to production rollout is considered a massive accomplishment in such a short period of time.

The Kohl’s rollout is expected to be followed by news from another major retailer. Industry sources say an announcement is imminent.

Now that the threat of patent infringement lawsuits from Round Rock has greatly lessened, it is expected that Wal-Mart may re-accelerate its RFID program. The retailer had requested that HP tag all printing cartridges, about 35 million a year. That move was dropped in the spring, but could re-surface.

“The tremendous momentum the industry was experiencing prior to the Round Rock litigation is quickly returning,” says Kamel. “With Macy’s going full steam, plus the chain-wide programs at Kohl’s and JC Penney, this will be another big year for RFID in the department store sector. Several smaller department store chains are likely to accelerate their programs, and the specialty retailers are starting to come on board too.”

The connected fitting room

The consumer-facing apps being piloted by Kohl’s are a hint of some of the “wow” applications discussed in the last issue of RFID 24-7. The connected fitting room concept being deployed by Kohl’s was on display for the first time at the Microsoft booth, in a partnership with Accenture. In addition to denim, men’s basics and footwear, Kohl’s also plans to tag women’s apparel goods for use with the connected fitting rooms.

When a customer enters a connected fitting room carrying RFID-tagged items, the solution recognizes the items and displays them graphically on a Windows Embedded 8 powered touchscreen. From there, the user can select a different size, style, or color as well as browse and even request related recommendations, all of which will be sent to a store associate’s smartphone for immediate fulfillment.

The solution also collects anonymous data from all visits. A combination of Accenture analytics and Microsoft business intelligence tools transforms data into insights, such as average time customers spend in the fitting room, how many items are brought in, or store associate response times.

Also on display at the NRF Big Show were the RFID-enabled kiosks that bring products to life for consumers. Kohl’s has already placed these kiosks on the sales floors of a handful of stores as part of a pilot. Shoppers can carry the RFID-enabled products to the kiosks and receive further information about those items in the form of videos and other content. The kiosks also have point-of-sale capability to allow the consumer to purchase products.

The kiosks allow consumers to compare products and also to save information from the kiosk to their mobile devices via their Kohl’s app.

Eventually Kohl’s hopes to have two in each store, one near the shoe department and one near housewares. This signals that Kohl’s intends to start tagging some of its houseware products as well. In the Microsoft booth, Kohl’s was demonstrating its kiosk solution using a coffee maker.

Hard goods manufacturer Lifetime Brands has had discussions about shipping RFID-enabled kitchen items into Kohl’s, but has not received a definite answer from the retailer. Lifeftime Brands already ships some RFID-enabled product to Macy’s, such as cutlery sets and specialty knives from its Farberware line.

“We have had additional discussions with Kohl’s, as recently as this week, and have offered to be a pilot vendor for certain departments that have not yet been announced,” says Jerry Glinnen, compliance officer at Lifetime Brands.

“I feel they are doing this rollout correctly. They are doing extensive testing to make sure this process works for them. They are a great group to work with on any issues. They want their vendors to be successful and will give them whatever help is needed.”

Exciting news from Bon-Ton and LL Bean

Bon Ton stores has rolled out a solution at 30 U.S. stores that turn products-on-display like shoes into mobile marketing channels.

With a tap of the NFC-enabled smartphone to a Smartrac NFC tag in the label attached to the shoe, shoppers can instantly enhance their consumer experience by determining whether their store has the shoes in the requested size, color and style. If the product is not available, the interactive experience will guide Bon-Ton customers to the nearest store that has the desired shoe in stock or direct them to Bon-Ton’s mobile commerce site.

Hundreds of thousands of tags have been deployed and more than 500,000 SKUs have been managed and delivered on the software platform from Thinaire since it was introduced in November. The solution makes it easy and intuitive for shoppers to find and purchase the products they want.

L.L. Bean is using RFID in a five-store pilot designed to enhance consumer engagement by providing real-time information about products consumers are interested in. The solution from inMotion Retail Marketing was demonstrate din the Smartrac booth.

Every time a shopper picks up an RFID-tagged item from a display wall, inMotion’s software detects the item’s movement and triggers a video display with promotional messages and information about the product.

“This year we’re going to see some of these “wow” applications that retailers will roll out based upon the RFID infrastructure that they have in place,” says Bill Hardgrave, Dean of the College of Business at Auburn University and the founder of the RFID Research Center.

Earlier this month Hardgrave told RFID 24-7 that retailers who have been working on RFID and have solved foundational problems such as inventory accuracy will be in position to drive special consumer engagement projects.

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