In 2014, retailers made significant investments in RFID and sensor technology to enhance the in-store shopping experience. In 2015, RFID will start to become part of the retailing infrastructure, much like ERP, CRM and other enterprise systems — making the impact of the “whole RFID solution” greater than the sum of its individual parts.
Successfully deploying RFID across multiple aspects of the business is less about the tangible aspect of readers, tags and software, and more about intangible factors, such as process improvement, education, supply chain management, business alignment and customer-facing operations. Based on our conversations with retailers, here are the five areas of focus for 2015.
Resolution 1: Streamline In-Store Processes
RFID technology is designed to automate repetitive tasks for store associates, so they can spend more time assisting customers. In 2014 we heard from store managers who believed the new technology was actually creating more work for store associates, as they were monitoring new hardware, replacing batteries, tagging garments in the back room and fulfilling omni-channel orders. The challenge was not with the technology itself, but the fact that so many new initiatives were launched at once (Beacons, Kiosks, Mobile Checkout, Omni-channel Fulfillment, etc.).
Resolution: It’s clear that stores already have enough to do, and will be asked to do more to enhance the shopping experience. There are several ways retailers can reduce the burden on store operations, including: a) shifting logistics tasks, such as tagging and encoding, back to source manufacturing and DCs b) providing remote device monitoring services and c) adding RFID verification to back room processes such as order picking, packing and shipping.
Resolution 2: Educate Stakeholders
RFID technology impacts nearly every business function, but not everyone is given a seat at the table during the planning stage of a project. This leads to uneven resource allocation, and can stall project funding along the way. We’ve found that many RFID project leaders spend more time testing components of the solution than gathering input from and educating key stakeholders.
Resolution: Let your RFID deployment partner handle the system testing and allocate a small portion of the deployment budget to stakeholder education. Creating an “advisory board” of Finance, IT, Operations, Merchandising, LP and Design leaders gives them ownership in the overall project. Simple things, such as putting up posters in the back room or nominating store associates as “RFID ambassadors” to visit and socialize RFID benefits to stores in their region can make a big difference in the success of a deployment.
Resolution 3: Enable Supply Chain Processes
Although inventory inaccuracy starts at source manufacturing and propagates at DCs, many RFID inventory management projects start at the store level, which is essentially the end of the supply chain. It’s unrealistic to believe that incorrect shipments from vendors, stores and DCs will be sorted out in the back room of each store.
Resolution: Automate DC processes to make sure stores receive accurate inventory in the first place, instead of trying to make adjustments later. DCs (and Flagship Stores located around high population centers) have mature logistics processes in place (Picking, Packing, ASN Shipping) that can be easily automated with RFID. Many retailers already shrink wrap outgoing shipments to stores, ensuring that no items get lost along the way.
Resolution 4: Align your Project with Specific Business Objectives
Over the past year, we have seen RFID project goals evolve from asset protection to shelf availability to omni-channel order fulfillment to customer analytics (though not necessarily in that order). RFID is an enabling technology – but trying to enable too many things at once can dilute the impact of one particular project (especially if it’s the first RFID project for the company).
Resolution: Constrain the scope of your initial RFID project to a high-impact initiative with measurable outcomes. For example, providing expedited omni-channel order fulfillment from flagship stores in each region, then using the increased order volume to roll out the capability to additional stores.
Resolution 5: Deliver on Customer Promises
“Customer-Facing” doesn’t have to mean face to face. More shoppers are making purchase decisions based on convenience, such as being able to search and reserve items in a nearby store. When inventory information is offered online, but is inaccurate or incomplete, a potentially positive customer experience becomes a negative one. Retailers have been quick to introduce omni-channel capabilities, but having the underlying infrastructure to fulfill omni-channel orders has often been lacking.
Resolution: Consider the customer-facing capabilities you provide today, how they are actually being used by shoppers, and how you will deliver them on the back end. Some specialty retailers use RFID inventory management to guarantee the availability of a select number of replenishment items (such as denim), knowing that a shopper will also purchase complementary items when picking up the item in-store. Other retailers may guarantee the availability of a wide range of items, but restrict in-store pickup to high-volume stores when starting their project.
In 2015, Checkpoint Systems will be sharing RFID deployment best practices every month in RFID 24/7. Our content is designed to inform and educate your project team, based on learnings from hundreds of Checkpoint and OATSystems implementations in the field. Our goal is to enable RFID programs that make sense for you, knowing that, like snowflakes, no two deployments are the same. We welcome your feedback and suggestions for future content via email, Twitter (@CheckpointSys @OATSystems ), or on the RFID 24-7 Facebook page, where our content will also be housed.
Wishing you RFID deployment success in 2015!
About the Author:
Su Doyle, RFID Industry Programs, Checkpoint Systems
Su has been advising end customers on RFID deployment for over seven years, working on in-store, supply chain, manufacturing and aftermarket projects in Retail, Industrial, Aerospace and Consumer Goods markets. She has authored RFID planning guides, business case metrics and deployment guides for Checkpoint Systems’ OATSystems division since 2008. She frequently comments on supply chain best practices on Twitter at @sudoyle