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RFID and the Frictionless Retail Experience

RFID and the Frictionless Retail Experience

Friction, as we learned in elementary school science, slows things down. Friction in brick-and-mortar retail settings – making the in-store customer wait – is one of the biggest pain points in retail operations. Slow checkouts are a friction pain point that reduces sales, tarnishes brand image, and pushes customers toward online shopping.

RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is starting to move retail toward the goal of frictionless checkout. RFID is the undeniable champion of physical asset management – fast, accurate, reliable, cost-effective, and flexible. Warehousing and logistics have relied on RFID technology for decades. But applying it to the challenge of the “last mile” has proved to be elusive until recently.

The last mile – delivering products to the end user – is the most expensive and complex segment of the supply chain. Inventory re-supply, shelf re-stocking, and buyer check-out are labor-intensive. The first breakthrough in a fully automated last mile was Amazon’s 2018 trial launch of its Go checkout-free retail program. Go created a frictionless shopping experience, with shoppers choosing their merchandise and walking out of the store without any active interaction with payment technology or staff.

RFID is integral to the success of true frictionless checkout. Cameras identify objects as they are removed from shelves. RFID readers detect RFID-chip credit cards to ensure merchants are paid for whatever leaves the store. Working together, the cameras and RFID manage a store’s inventory with a real-time speed and efficiency that cannot be matched by less automated means. Amazon Go and similar frictionless checkout technologies are expected to expand from $218 million to $45 billion by 2023.

Access to real-time data is what makes RFID such a valuable asset to supply chain operations. Linked to ERP (enterprise resource planning), SCM (supply chain management), and just-walk-out software, RFID provides visibility throughout the manufacturing supply chain, from factory to warehouse to consumer.

RFID helps information and operations work together. The information collected from RFID sources along the chain improves the flexibility and responsiveness of the entire chain. Suppliers can respond to trends more easily, and identify potential supply-and-demand incongruities before they become a problem.

No matter where your business operates in the supply chain – manufacturing, logistics, warehousing, retail – RFID provides crucial end to end management information. Be agile, be proactive, and be confident that RFID-supplied data lets you make better informed decisions.

 

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Already Got RFID? How to Make It Do More for Your Business

Already Got RFID? How to Make It Do More for Your Business

More than 45 years ago, an RFID prototype was patented by U.S. engineer and inventor Mario Cardullo, and the new technology began changing the way businesses managed and secured their physical assets. Today RFID is widespread in organizations as diverse as hospitals and mining operations, film studios and retail stores. Now these RFID-enabled companies are asking, “Can my RFID system do more than manage inventory or security?”

Yes, it can. RFID can benefit almost every facet of your business, and if you already have RFID for inventory management, you can find options for applying it in other areas, including:

  • Document management
  • Tools and supplies management
  • Furnishings and equipment management
  • Patient record management
  • Pharmaceutical dispensary management
  • Equipment maintenance schedules
  • Product out-of-date schedules

And many more.

Location capability is one of the popular add-ons which RFID users are bolting on to their existing systems. RFID technology excels at “what” (identification) and “how many” (counting). But it also shines as a “where” tool to report on the location of tagged items.

One retailer was successfully using RFID to identify and count their warehouse inventory. When they began offering buy-online pickup-in-store (BOPIS) in their storefront operations, their store associates could not locate in-store inventory quickly enough to meet customers’ pickup deadlines. Working with their RFID provider, the retailer identified a handheld RFID reader that scans shelves directionally, and quickly leads a store employee straight to the searched-for item.

Now the retailer meets its pickup deadlines easily, meeting its customers’ expectations every time. It’s a win for everyone.

Retail isn’t the only sector that benefits from RFID’s location capabilities. Knowing exactly where your employees are makes processes more efficient and improves worker safety. Knowing exactly where to find the right medication improves patient outcomes. Knowing exactly where components are in assembly lines keeps production on track. And those are just a few examples.

Do you already have RFID technology in your operations? Talk to an RFID consultant about ways to make your RFID system work even harder. Your ROI in RFID will increase even more.

 

Photo © momius / AdobeStock

I’ll Have an RFID Tag and a Beer, Please

I’ll Have an RFID Tag and a Beer, Please

The craft beer business is booming. Small regional brewers and local micro-breweries supply unique local beers to nearby bars and restaurants, accounting for nearly 24% of beer consumption in 2020. Post-covid, many bars and restaurants have been short-staffed and patrons have stayed away rather than endure long waits for service. In response, some creative pub owners have turned to RFID technology to help get beer into patrons’ glasses.

The use of RFID in self-serve beer pubs is not entirely new, but it’s expanding rapidly as a way to help with hospitality staffing challenges. Patrons are issued an RFID wristband that records their driver’s license information and payment card, and the self-serve “beer wall” records their purchases. The benefits include:

  • Reduced liability – The system places automatic limits on patrons’ consumption and prevents underage self-service.
  • Better marketing management – Buying habits are tracked based on age group, day of the week, etc., to match popular products with outreach efforts.
  • Improved inventory management – Real-time inventory reports help avoid shortages and lost sales.

It should be noted that these RFID benefits are not limited to the hospitality industry. Inventory management has been a strength of RFID for decades, but inventive users keep coming up with new ways to use RFID as an operational solution:

  • Life Sciences – Researchers identify and track samples throughout the testing process, preventing errors that could skew results.
  • Healthcare – Equipment and drug inventories are continuously monitored, and personnel are tracked throughout hospital complexes, ensuring adequate numbers of staff and materials.
  • Administrative Offices – Paper documents are tracked as they move from desk to desk, avoiding misplacement or erroneous deliveries.

At its most basic, RFID may be thought of as an inventory management tool, but as these applications show, it is really much more. It frees employees to focus on their primary tasks as it automatically tracks and counts operational items of all kinds. It saves the hours that would otherwise go to correcting errors. And it will even dispense a beer for you at the end of a long workday. Cheers to that!

Photo © WavebreakmediaMicro / AdobeStock

RFID Awards Spotlight Broad Applications, Worldwide Reach

RFID Awards Spotlight Broad Applications, Worldwide Reach

If you’re wondering if RFID has any applications for your business, the recent RFID Journal Awards might be an eye-opener. RFID has moved far beyond its original use as an inventory management tool. The array of various business sectors receiving awards ranges from hospitals to mines. A few of the award winners are reviewed here:

  • Healthcare: Winning in the Healthcare category, Sakura City Hospital is indeed a city, with more than 2,600 beds and over 187,000 assets. Those assets are tracked with RFID, reducing loss and waste, and ensuring the availability of equipment and medicines.
  • Manufacturing: This year’s winner in the Manufacturing category is using RFID to produce COVID-19 test kits with fewer personnel. With manpower at a premium, diagnostic-test manufacturer Danaher-Cepheid is helping save lives by maintaining high levels of production during the pandemic staffing crisis.
  • Implementation: This category awards innovative uses of RFID. Mining ranks in the top 25 most dangerous jobs; locating miners in a disaster reduces the chance of injury or death. Turkish industrial conglomerate Eczacibasi has implemented an active RFID system to monitor the location of miners and equipment with pinpoint accuracy.
  • Retail: RFID has been well-known in the retail world for several decades, but it has really come into its own in creating operational efficiencies. This year’s Retail award went to Havan Labs, a premiere retailer in Brazil. With more than 200,000 items, Havan Labs’ store inventories used to take 15 employees working over 5 nights. After implementing RFID throughout its operations, inventories take 1 employee, and 1 hour.

Even more important, RFID’s real-time data has enabled Havan Labs to reduce its in-store stock by 30 percent. Storage space has been converted to retail space, increasing sales without the risk of out-of-stocks.

Congratulations to all the winners and to all the businesses who have discovered the benefits of RFID for themselves. The above industry sectors are only the tip of the RFID iceberg – automobile parts, legal documents, antiquities, rental cars, historical archives, Army boot manufacturers…the list of RFID applications goes on and on. There’s an application for your organization, too. Who knows, it might win you an award.

Photo © michaeljung / AdobeStock

Counterfeits Damage Brands and Consumers. RFID to the Rescue!

Counterfeits Damage Brands and Consumers. RFID to the Rescue!

Counterfeits are big business. A global analysis estimated lost sales of $1.82 trillion in 2020. And it’s not just the sales lost to counterfeits. Jobs are lost. Even lives are lost. And brand trust – intangible and invaluable – is damaged, perhaps forever.

Fake products aren’t confined to luxury goods like handbags and watches. They include:

  • Pharmaceuticals – Whether they are ineffective sugar pills, or contain dangerous toxins, counterfeit medications have been estimated to kill as many as 1 million people annually.
  • Art and Antiquities Reputable museums and private collectors paid a grand total of $80 million for counterfeit works from one New York forger, as documented in the film “Made You Look.”
  • Consumer goods – From consumer electronics to vintage wines, fake labels and fake contents cost the U.S. $600 billion per year.
  • Manufacturing components – Falsely labeled components and materials were reported to cost the automotive industry alone $3 billion per year.

Adding insult to injury, counterfeits destroy brand trust. A Harris Poll of 2018 found that if Americans learned that they had purchased a fake product, 73% would stop buying from the company that sold it.

Technology comes to the rescue in the form of RFID. RFID assigns a unique identifier to every element of a product. It starts at the very beginning of the manufacturing process and continues through product completion, shipping, warehousing, and retail sale. The authenticity of each finished product can be certified. Its RFID-managed and controlled “history” is unimpeachable. Your brand’s reputation is enhanced though the use of anti-counterfeit technology, and customers trust your brand more than ever.

RFID has many benefits, from inventory management to operational security and more. But perhaps none is more valuable, in the long run, than protecting your brand.

Photo © metamorworks / AdobeStock

Shortages are the Enemy of Profits. RFID is Your Ally.

Shortages are the Enemy of Profits. RFID is Your Ally.

Shortages and hoarding were two of the many unwelcome side effects of the pandemic. Remember the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020? A similar effect was felt in many business sectors. Manufacturers experienced shortages of parts or materials. Hospitals ran short of PPE and other supplies. Out-of-stocks cost retailers billions in a year.

Businesses responded to shortages by overstocking inventory. But overstocking is costly. Buying excess inventory is expensive; storing the excess adds additional costs. And if demand suddenly drops, your business is left holding the bag.

The just in time (JIT) production and distribution chain has been the enterprise holy grail for more than 3 decades. It only works if every segment of the supply chain communicates with every other segment in a timely manner. Any lapse or slow-down of communication means potential or actual shortages, with a ripple effect that is felt all up and down the line. Time is indeed of the essence.

And timely communication is where RFID shines. Not only does it track your inventory coming in the door, it tracks it as it leaves. And it communicates that information to your ERP system, in real time. At any given moment, managers can know exactly what they have on hand, and they can re-order at the right time to avoid a shortage, or an excess.

Moreover, this close monitoring of inventory doesn’t add to labor costs. Door-mounted RFID readers collect information automatically as inventory moves in and out. There’s no need to wait for a manual check-out, or even slow down for a bar code reader. RFID wins the inventory race every time, as this video shows.

Fast, accurate tracking of inventory is the key to keeping the supply chain moving smoothly and profitably. The data collected from RFID lets businesses confidently predict supply and demand throughout the supply chain. RFID is your ally in the battle for profitability.

 

Photo © peerayot/ AdobeStock