Speed is the name of the game when it comes to inventory and asset management, and RFID delivers the data faster than any other technology.
RFID is everywhere. Those plastic tags you’ve seen in retail stores; the small square metallic stickers on packaged goods; even your pet’s ID chip – those are all RFID tags. They store information about the item they’re attached to, and they deliver that information to an RFID reader’s screen.
Don’t bar codes manage information the same way? Not exactly. The key difference is in the way an RFID tag communicates with the reader. Bar code readers must “see” each bar code to collect the data. There has to be a clear sight line between the bar code and the reader. RFID readers, in contrast, don’t “see” the tag. They “hear” it, via radio waves sent by the tag. RF = radio frequency, ID = identification.
RFID readers can “hear” the signals from all the RFID tags in an area, all at the same time. Bar code readers, because they rely on “seeing,” can record only one bar code at a time. This video shows a bar code reader and an RFID reader in a head-to-head race.
Spoiler alert: The bar code reader is not going to be invited to the Kentucky Derby.
RFID technology has an application for every business sector.
Every business has a need for speed, because time is money. The less time it takes to collect information about assets, the more time you have to spend on your organization’s primary mission. RFID streamlines your workflow, improves inventory accountability, and monitors assets. Turbocharge your business with RFID.
The benefits of digital asset management (DAM), including RFID, are a hot topic these days. RFID applications are available for any sort of business. But owners and managers of organizations in the service sectors, from finance and law to healthcare and education, may think RFID is just an inventory tool for the retail and logistics sectors.
If you think your enterprise couldn’t benefit from RFID, think again.
Asset Tracking – Ever notice how there are never enough chairs in the conference room? Furniture, laptops, and other work tools have a way of wandering from their assigned locations. RFID tags keep tabs on the location of these peripatetic items, as well as providing information on their age and condition. Office and facility managers can easily identify aging furnishings that need repairs or replacement, and pinpoint the location of every physical asset. Plus when inventory time comes, the RFID system can deliver a document listing the assigned value of each item currently in the facility, making financial reporting quicker and simpler. What is does it cost your business to update capital inventory records by hand?
Personnel Tracking – In busy public settings like hospitals or schools, knowing the location of key personnel can save time, or even save a life. RFID-enabled personnel badges keep track of people’s movements and current whereabouts so no time is wasted when someone is urgently needed. RFID personnel badges work with an institution’s security system to manage access to restricted areas and maintain safety. And in emergency situations, an RFID system can tell first responders who is inside and where they are. What is the dollar value of RFID-managed security and safety?
Document Tracking – We always advocate converting paper documents to digital documents via a well-planned imaging program; imaged documents are secure, shareable with teams, and save the real estate costs of large file rooms. But in many offices there are documents that need to be retained as paper even if they have been imaged. Paper files are easy to lose or misplace (one of the advantages of imaging), but with the addition of small, inconspicuous RFID tags, the location of a file can be tracked throughout an office. Doorway RFID readers monitor the movement of files from one room to another, and files can be located with a quick look at the tracking record. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates an average of 25 extra hours to recreate a lost document; how much would that cost your business?
Keep in mind that RFID, unlike bar codes, doesn’t require direct sight lines to record and track business assets carrying RFID tags. Once items or personnel are assigned their unique RFID tag, doorway readers track their movements automatically as they pass from one room to another. And inventory updates can be as simple as walking into a room and pressing a button on an RFID reader. You’ll instantly collect data on all the capital assets the room contains; no need to look through cabinets and underneath furniture to read bar code IDs. RFID is a timesaver, and like its other benefits, that translates into money.
RFID systems come in many shapes and sizes, and can be scaled up or down to suit your organization’s needs. When you start adding up the costs of lost documents, lost equipment, and lost time, it’s clear that you shouldn’t miss out on the benefits of RFID.
Congratulations to the honorees of Fast Company’s 2019 Innovation by Design Awards for retail environments. These companies are recognized for their forward-thinking designs that serve markets better and offer more productivity and profitability to their owners. From our perspective as space utilization and information management experts, two businesses in Fast Company’s 2019 class stand out for ingenious uses of commercial space and data technology:
The co-working company Spacious is built on an inventive model that takes freelancers out of their overcrowded daytime “Starbucks office” and places them in restaurants that are closed during the day, open only for dinner. These restaurants are climate-controlled, and the lights are on for the day prep crew, but the dining areas are completely empty until late afternoon; in essense, the restaurants are paying for underutilized space. Restaurants team up with Spacious to provide co-working space in the unused dining rooms, and the Spacious on-site team provides power points, wifi hookups, and user assistance. With memberships set at an affordable $95 per month, which Spacious splits with the restaurants, it’s a win for everyone.
Walmart has been a pioneer in retail technology for many years. An early adopter of supply-chain RFID, Walmart recently installed a pilot program of retail AI in the form of an Intelligent Retail Lab (IRL) in one of its highest-demand locations. Sensors and cameras send information to a room-size data center, which in turn generates alerts to maintain the in-store inventory. Availability of products, freshness of produce, even the number of empty grocery carts in the parking lot, all is monitored by the IRL rather than by store associates. Staff are freed up to focus on face-to-face interactions with customers. Productivity goes up, and the cost of outdated inventory and lost sales goes down.
We strongly advocate the use of asset management technology. RFIDand bar codingare proven information management systems with a positive impact on profits. Well done, Walmart!
Good design isn’t just an aesthetically-pleasing façade; it contributes to the success of a business, and enriches the community in which that business operates. Our highest compliments to these enterprises for their outstanding designs!
Retailers with captive consumers – notably airports and hospitals – used to enjoy a mini-monopoly. The offerings of the shops were limited and the prices were exorbitant. In the late 1990’s, however, airports began to capitalize on their corridors, installing elaborate retail malls and food courts. In some cities, airports even looked to become dining destinations. But hospitals were slow to change. The hospital gift shop continued to disappoint the hopes of shoppers with time on their hands, money in their pockets, and no other retail options.
Now, though, hospital gift shops and pharmacies are starting to realize their larger retail opportunities. Expanding their offerings and bolting on additional services like salons and spas gives hospitals new revenue opportunities. Part of this change is driven by competition among healthcare providers, whose marketing teams actively seek ways to stand out in the marketplace. Online “hospital gift shops” are also grabbing some of the get-well-soon gift business, pushing the brick-and-mortar gift shops into a newly competitive position.
Amy Eagle, writing in Healthcare Facilities Management Magazine, discusses the innovative high-end hospital retail spaces appearing around the country. From relaxing spas to colorful toy stores (like the one pictured here), these retail designs are intended to “distract, amuse, comfort, and soothe.”
The new retail spaces come with a challenge: Where to store all the additional inventory for the expanded retail? Storage space is always at a premium in hospitals; medical supplies and equipment always get first dibs. Space-efficient storage technology – high density mobile shelving, for example – reduces space requirements by 50%, while eliminating much of the shipping packaging commonly found in retail storages areas – packaging which can attract health-compromising pests. It’s a win for everyone – patients, visitors, and hospitals.
The captive consumer, with only a single choice for goods or services, represents the very antithesis of American freedom of choice. While every retailer would be happy to have 100% of the business, they know that competition, although arduous, improves their own opportunities as well as those of their customers. A well-designed space-efficient inventory storage system makes it possible to expand inventory and meet the competitive challenge.
Everyone knows what a bar code is – we can’t forget the commercial showing bank customers with bar codes on their foreheads – but the workflow and inventory management benefits of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology aren’t as well known. Like bar codes, RFID tags contain information about the item they’re attached to. No doubt you have seen those large plastic tags clipped on apparel in retail stores, and seen them removed by cashiers at the time of purchase – those are RFID tags, and they help the store manage inventory. But RFID tags also come in much smaller versions, like the one pictured here, and they can be affixed to everything from shipping boxes to artworks, tools, furniture, weapons, and even office file folders or individual documents. They’re inconspicuous, easy to apply, and last for 50 years.
The technological difference between RFID and bar codes is this: Like books or newspapers, bar codes are printed in ink, and must be visually read by an electronic scanner. RFID tags, by contrast, are essentially tiny radio transmitters, bouncing a signal back to an RFID reader just the way your favorite radio station relays a signal to your car radio. The RFID signal contains unique identifying information about the item the tag is attached to.
On the surface, RFID may not seem to offer any advantages over bar codes. Nevertheless, Walmart, Macy’s, and other retailers turned to RFID for a very good reason: Labor costs. Their inventory management systems were based on bar codes, and the bar code scanner had to “see” the bar code. Because it couldn’t see around corners or through walls, every item in a stockroom or warehouse had to be manually turned toward the reader – a time-consuming labor-intensive process. And labor is expensive.
The radio signals of an RFID tag, however, can be “grabbed” by an RFID reader without the reader ever having to see the tag. As long as the reader is in proximity to the tag (same room or same building), it receives the information from the RFID tag via radio waves, without any need to handle the inventory. In effect, the RFID reader can see around corners, or through a stack of boxes, or into a filing cabinet. The labor of inventory management becomes as simple as walking into a room.
Facility managers know where every desk and chair is located without doing a room-to-room count.
Automobile manufacturers streamline workflows by tracking parts as vehicles move through the assembly line.
Museum curators are certain of which storeroom contains a particular collection, without having to open drawers or rummage through shelves.
Warehouse managers know exactly what a new shipment contains without having to open the boxes.
Paralegals locate critical documents in a law office without having to search through multiple files.
Bar code technology is far from obsolete, however. Bar codes are a proven solution for an array of situations in which labor costs are not such a big part of the inventory management calculus. But for many organizations, RFID offers productivity benefits that boost the bottom line.
As every manager and owner knows, inventory and asset management is vital to any successful enterprise. RFID will streamline your workflow and improve inventory accountability. Consult with an expert in inventory management and storage who can tell you if RFID or bar coding, or both, could be the right solution for your business.
Nordstrom is adding to its retail technology with the acquisition of two mobile apps. One will give store associates the ability to send personalized product recommendations to consumers when they’re out of the store, as well as the potential for consumers to share information with each other and shop online as a group. The other app sends customers personalized text messages that allow them to purchase via the text message.
These apps are part of Nordstrom’s effort to build on its reputation for a personalized shopping experience, a corporate value that dates back to the retailer’s earliest years. Similar apps are likely to be adopted by other retailers wanting to strengthen their customer relationships.
Collectively, such retail-relationship apps will have an impact on inventory management. When customers respond to a shopping opportunity en masse, at the speed of technology, retailers must have sufficient stock on hand to meet demand. Otherwise they risk disappointing their customers and undermining the very same relationships they’re building with their shopping apps. Inventory technology, especially RFID, will be vital to fulfilling the demand created by these apps.
From automotive jobber to specialty boutique to major department store, retailers have been using RFID inventory management in some degree since the early 2000’s. RFID inventory systems allow retailers to balance the tension between two inventory principles: (1) keeping sufficient inventory on hand for current demand, and (2) maintaining excessive storage capacity as inventory and demand fluctuate.
Even with the advances in RFID inventory management, predicting future demand has always been an educated guess, putting retailers in a reactive position to market demands. But with the new retail-relationship apps, retailers can become more proactive. As customers react to store associates’ suggestions, retailers can aggregate the responses to predict demand and refine their JIT orders. If a product seems like a hot buy, retailers can stock up in readiness for demand. If a product doesn’t garner much buzz, retailers can avoid overstocking and the storage costs that come with it.
The next step for retail technology may be linking customer-outreach apps to inventory management technology, creating an end-to-end system that ensures sufficient stock without an oversupply of warehouse or in-store storage capacity. This means that retailers who are considering acquiring or expanding RFID technology should choose a future-proof system that can accommodate new technology developments as they come on line. Talk to your storage consultant to find out what RFID system is best for your enterprise.