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RFID: A Great Holiday Gift for Retail Operations

You may wish to ring in the New Year early with RFID, because it can make the holiday experience much jollier for store operations — and your customers. Based upon managing numerous retail pilots and enterprise deployments in North America and Europe, here are six benefits I’ve seen firsthand:

Prioritize and Receive Merchandise in Stores & DCs: In the midst of holiday chaos, store associates can’t easily determine which recently received shipments must be unpacked immediately and which ones can wait till later. But with RFID, they can make their replenishment operations more efficient and prioritize shipments at the distribution center or at the retail receiving dock/back room as needed – so fast-moving items get on shelves and are available to fulfill customer orders. Knowing which box an associate should open first in the backroom can be crucial during holiday madness, since customers can be extremely demanding in terms of when they can take possession of that nice sweater for Grandpa Walter, especially as the number of shopping days tick down.

Sonya Weed, RFID Program Manager, OATSystems

Automate Omni-Channel Fulfillment More Efficiently: Omni-channel fulfillment places a tremendous strain on retailers during the holiday season, with each order taking, on average, 20 minutes to fulfill. So rather than relying on inefficient manually organized order picking sessions, savvy retailers are using RFID to optimize the entire pick and pack process. During downtimes, associates check in with a smartphone or tablet and use merchandise location information to assist them in picking orders. This is tremendously useful for seasonal and temporary staff, who may not know what obscure characters mean in pick lists, and aren’t familiar with merchandise locations, particularly in large format stores. But it also makes full-time associates more productive by optimizing their paths to each piece of merchandise. And by using down time, instead of regularly scheduled sessions that may coincide with busy shopper traffic, retailers can ensure that customer service remains high when most needed.

In addition, RFID can help retailers determine the best location from which to ship merchandise that may have been ordered online or through a catalog. That’s because when retailers have increased trust in inventory numbers, they can reliably ship merchandise from the nearest locations that show available inventory, thereby ensuring customers receive their goods in a timely fashion.

Achieve Targeted Cycle Counting: To steal a literary line, some inventory is more equal than others. As such, it makes sense for retailers to configure their RFID systems so they are cycle counting the most important/fast moving merchandise first. And those systems should be adaptive, since fast moving merchandise trends may shift from week to week. By doing so, retailers can prioritize and replenish the highest priority goods, rather than slow movers, so high-demand merchandise is on the shelves for purchase.

Use Item Location to Determine What Is Available: One of the bigger time wasters during the holidays is when associates, often seasonal workers, look for merchandise in the wrong places (eventually giving up), or look for merchandise that may not even be in the store. This is a problem particularly in areas of densely packed merchandise. By using RFID item location capabilities, associates can quickly determine if the merchandise is in store and, if so, where it is located. That means less wasted time and more sales.

Better Leverage Compliance Dashboards: Traditional dashboards are useful, but only to a limit. After all, without knowing exactly what was counted, when it was counted, and the quantity of merchandise in the count, good business decisions can’t be made. But with RFID-based information, store managers can focus counts on important areas that have been missed, receive alerts if counts are late or inventory counts don’t match what is on shelves, etc. RFID enables store managers to better know where they should focus their time and allocate their resources. This is even more crucial in omni-channel environments, in which accurate inventory not only impacts store sales, but online sales and those from other stores. In one example, I saw a corporate retail headquarters monitor its individual stores and remove those with past-due inventory counts from omni-channel orders, because it wanted to ensure that if a store showed it had inventory to ship, it actually did. Bottom line: We saw an immediate reduction in past-due inventory counts at the store level.

Achieve Faster Holiday Season Staff Onboarding: Repeat after me: Using RFID is not a burden. In fact, it helps associates do their job better, especially in chaotic times. And because of that, new associates generally welcome the use of RFID, responding to it more positively than you might expect. I’ve seen staff get excited to do inventory counts with RFID readers, because it trims the time it takes to do boring inventory tasks, and reduces the number of times that errors are made vs. manual methods. Virtually anyone, regardless of retail experience, can conduct inventory counting with RFID readers. And by spending less time taking inventory, new associates have more time on the store floor to spend with customers.

I likely don’t need to sell you on the idea that using RFID improves retail operations. But here’s my seasonal gift to you: If you are looking to sell management on the technology, the holiday season has a way of bringing out its strongest benefits!

Sonya Weed is an RFID Program Manager at OATSystems, a division of Checkpoint Systems. She has over a decade of experience in managing large scale IT deployments in retail and healthcare.

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