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RFID Update


A seamless customer experience begins with a complete, real-time view of enterprise product assortment. However, RFID technology is taking this concept of “inventory awareness” to previously unimagined levels.

“There is a big push toward retailers using RFID for continuous monitoring,” stated Justin Patton, director of the Auburn University RFID Lab. “Readers are permanently mounted in fixed locations in the store or distribution center. Associates don’t have to do a specific, executable task.”

Patton cited a number of well-known retailers, including Levi’s, American Apparel and U.K.-based hypermarket chain Marks & Spencer, which are experimenting with this type of blanket RFID coverage. Benefits can be delivered in several different areas.

“You can limit the required labor to execute inventory-related activities and save on the cost of RFID hardware,” Patton said. “Retailers are also using robots with built-in RFID readers to scan RFID-tagged items. You let it rip in the store at night and scan everything.”

In addition to reducing expenses associated with manpower and technology, continuous RFID monitoring also greatly increases the accuracy and timeliness of inventory counts.

“You can locate items within the store,” Patton said. “You can know exactly where an item is, and locate by specific components such as size and color. You couldn’t do that five years ago with handheld readers.”

In a pilot of continuous RFID monitoring using Intel technology at a store located at its San Francisco corporate headquarters, Levi’s has been leveraging real-time, highly specific inventory awareness to do things like notify associates of items that have been misplaced.

Patton said retailers can also leverage continuous RFID monitoring to obtain detailed item-level metrics, such as how often a specific product has been picked up or taken into the dressing room before being purchased. He also mentioned a pilot of Oak Labs RFID technology Polo Ralph Lauren is running in its Fifth Avenue New York store.

“Customers are shown pictures of products they bring into the dressing room on the mirror, and can select different sizes and colors,” Patton said. “An associate then brings the additional items to them. Customers are also shown the name and picture of the associate helping them. It uses technology to build a more personal customer relationship.”

According to Patton, the more RFID-tagged items that a retailer has in the store, the more it can leverage RFID to deliver a seamless and personalized customer experience. He is optimistic that the industry is recognizing this potential.

“There are more RFID projects with more retailers and vendors than ever before,” concluded Patton. “Before, you could only pick from a few prime examples. RFID in retail is here to stay.”

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