RFID has come of age, and retailers are beginning to stop and take notice.
It’s been a tumultuous few years for retailers. Following a decade or so of digital disruption, it’s become increasingly difficult to compete in a market where the customer experience now dominates. That means speed, accuracy and convenience are now at the heart of any successful retail environment, affording customers the level of choice and immediate gratification they’ve come to expect from their favourite brands.
Good service is about more than smiles and pleasantries though. Beneath the surface, businesses have to keep their stockrooms running like well-oiled machines, ensuring that orders can be fulfilled seamlessly both online and in-house. This has a knock-on effect on suppliers, who are put under increasing pressure to pick and maintain huge inventories for their clients.
Thankfully, the same thing that affords customers the level of choice and convenience they now have, is also the solution to the problem many retailers are now facing – technology.
The RFID revolution
According to a recent study, inventory accuracy at the stock keeping unit (SKU) level stuck around 65% on average. The same study confidently claims that RFID can lift inventory accuracy to 95% or better.
So why have some retailers been slow to adopt? Technologies like this are often regarded as a large investment, and once a retailer or supplier has invested in an inventory tracking system, they’re likely to stay with it for as long as they can. The truth is, the benefits of RFID and the return on investment it can provide are only just now starting to be realised.
What is RFID?
Radio Frequency Identification can tag individual items, just like a 1D or 2D barcode scanner, but with a direct link to an RFID ‘tag’ or label that can be updated wirelessly. This allows users to identify, categorise and track assets on the move, and when combined with the right RFID software it can be a complete game changer for busy stock environments. Brands and suppliers can track items throughout their entire stock-cycle at a reduced overall cost, passing all of the benefits of speed and convenience to the customer.
RFID applications and benefits
Managing busy stock inventories is critical to success in retail, but the benefits of RFID extend far beyond the stockroom.
RFID allows retailers to track parcels and assets and can be used at EPoS (electronic point-of-sale) checkouts too. Rapid stock takes can improve the levels of service on the shop floor, and order picking becomes virtually seamless. RFID technology has even been adopted by hospitals and caregivers to track and monitor patients.
There are countless benefits to RFID over more conventional methods of scanning too. For one, RFID is capable of reading data from more than 20 meters away and can read multiple tags simultaneously. That means that instead of scanning items one by one, staff can do quick sweeps of a particular area to get the information they need instantly. Naturally, this reduces wait times for the customer in the event of a quick stock check but also makes even thorough sweeps of a large warehouse or stockroom easier than ever.
What’s more, RFID tags are capable of storing more data than your average barcode. Traditionally, scanning a barcode would bring up an SKU number and associated stock information such as name, category etc. An RFID tag, on the other hand, can store lots of data and can be written several times, offering an accurate history that can be extremely useful when looking to streamline operations.
Another mark in the column for RFID is that most modern readers can also read more traditional 1D and 2D barcodes, so a phased approach can be taken to its implementation with virtually no downtime. As a result, any retailers worried about ‘breaking the chain’ when they upgrade can rest easy.
Choosing the right RFID solution
In some instances, a combination of devices and a ‘mix and match’ approach will be the best way to take advantage of RFID, particularly when it comes to retail.
Here at Barcode Connexions, we make it our mission to stay at the cutting edge of barcode and RFID technology. Whatever the application, we’re able to find the right combination of technologies to solve just about any inventory tracking problem. We’ve partnered with some of the most innovative manufacturers in the world to establish an impressive line-up of RFID scanners including terminals, tablets, fixed readers and hand readers.
Our client partners and distributors have come to depend on us over the past 16 years, not just for supplying barcode and RFID solutions, but for assistance with repairs, maintenance, cable building, plastic card printing and even finance packages. We’ve also provided barcode scanning solutions for some of the toughest environments, using waterproof tags and rugged devices that can easily withstand bumps, scrapes and heavy downpours.
As retail starts to move increasingly toward paperless systems, retailers need to think very carefully about which technologies they invest in and how they can futureproof themselves to further changes in the market. Providing a seamless customer experience will remain high on the agenda for decades to come, and we believe that RFID technology will continue to play a crucial role in retail and beyond.
Ray Marsh, Managing Director at Barcode Connexions