In this article we will introduce the most common RFID applications used on the shop floor and show how the typical processes and the working day of your staff will change after you adopt RFID.
On the contrary to what many people think - the RFID technology
is actually very straight forward and often easier to use than
traditional barcode systems, not to mention using just pen and
paper. Still, many find it hard to believe and see it as some kind
of strange "voodoo" until they get an insight into how the RFID
applications actually work on the field. This article is good
reading for companies that are adopting or considering adopting
RFID and can be used for explaining the new work processes to the
shop floor staff and other interest groups.
1. STOCK TAKE / INVENTORY / CYCLE COUNT
Stock take, inventory, cycle count etc…. They say a dear child
has many names, but the task of taking inventory is "dear" to very
few. It's in fact one of the most hated tasks on the shop floor.
And no wonder, it's dull, monotone and it takes forever. AND the
staff still has to find time to complete their other tasks as
Just to make things clear, the words stock take and inventory
usually refer to a yearly counting of all items as a basis for
accounting and taxation in the end of a fiscal period. A more
frequent form of stock taking is called cycle counting or cycle
count, which can be completed as often as every day. Cycle counts
are usually performed in small portions of the shop at a time and
the purpose of them is to keep the backend system up-to-date.
Without RFID, the process of stock take demands that the shop is
closed for a day or two. The counting often causes overtime,
especially if the number of counted items doesn't match the
information in the inventory list in the backend system.
The inventory process without RFID, using pen & paper or
barcode systems, usually looks something like this:
- Close the shop.
- Divide your staff into groups with designated counting
- Give each group lists of what needs to be counted.
- The staff counts all the items manually and places stickers
with numbers all over the shop. They also keep their own record of
counted items as a backup. If the store has a barcode system
and the staff members have mobile devices with them on the quest,
one barcode gets scanned at a time followed by the manually counted
number of that particular barcode.
- Misplaced items found along the way are moved and added to the
numbers causing confusion and unclear results.
- The results are handed to the inventory supervisor or, in case
mobile devices are in use, are sent to the backend-system
wirelessly or via batch (transferred at the docking station). Then
the results are compared to the numbers in the inventory list in
the backend system to see if they match.
- The first-round results are often wrong and demand a
- Perhaps even a third recount for some items groups.
- Clean-up and arrangement of items.
- Open the store for business.
Cycle counts, one the other hand, are often performed while the
shop is open. The staff is expected to keep numbers in their
heads while customers are tapping them on the shoulder or walking
away with an item they just counted. Only portions of the items can
be counted per day since the process is so time-consuming.
RFID counting for you:
With RFID every item has an individual ID stored in the RFID
tag. RFID tags can be counted without line of sight very quickly
and you only need to designate a portion of your staff to scanning.
With the use of RFID, the process looks more like this:
- Designate (only) a few staff members to taking inventory /
performing cycle count
- Define what needs counting and set the mobile devices
- The inventory takers walk around the shop with mobile devices
and scan all items in seconds or minutes (depending on the shop
size and number of items).
- The results are sent to the backend-system wirelessly or via
batch. Then the results are automatically compared to the numbers
in the inventory list in the backend system and the information is
The results are usually correct right away (99.9 % reading
accuracy has been reported with RFID) so there is no need to
recount anything, and even if the staff decides to do that, it only
takes minutes. Most items have not been physically moved, so
everything is in order and there is no need for cleaning up
afterwards. The inventory/cycle count was done while the shop was
open, so business has been rolling as usual meanwhile. Since
counting with RFID is so fast and accurate, there is no need to do
cycle counts only in small portions of the shop at a time, go ahead
and let the staff scan everything while they're at it.
For a quick example of fast and accurate inventory, check out this video.
2. ITEM SEARCH
Item search without RFID:
All shop floor staff members have been there - A customer needs
help finding a specific item or size and it just isn't where it's
supposed to be. It's important to find the item quickly or
there is a risk of losing the customer (or other customers waiting
in queue) while searching.
After checking with the backend system how many items are
supposed to be on the shop floor and noticing that at least one
should be around here somewhere, the ordeal begins:
- Start searching.
- If the item can't be found easily - call the backroom and ask
for more items. It is usually faster to order a new one than to
look for a missing item that is hiding well.
- If there are no more items in the backroom, the "grand search"
begins. The staff member might have to go through all clothes
racks, fitting rooms, shelves, piles of reserved clothes, display
windows etc. and it's still likely that the item has gone
Since inventory with pen & paper or barcode is so prone to
mistakes, the searching staff member is painfully aware of the
possibility that the item might not even be in the shop. If the
item isn't located in a certain amount of time, the staff member
will simply give up. The sale is lost.
The actual search process without RFID is also unreliable since
the staff member is searching for the item with his or her eyes as
the only aid and many items may be similar to others and are easily
missed or mixed up.
Item search with the help of RFID:
- Check the device for information about availability and/or
whereabouts. The device can inform about last scans (for example
fitting rooms, shop sections or back room) to make finding the item
- If the item is supposed to be on the shop floor and has not
been detected by gate readers or fitting room readers, the
likelihood is that the item is misplaced
- Start item search with the RFID device, which works like a
Geiger meter beeping and showing a digital graph of how close you
are to the item. By following the device you minimize the searching
area from the entire shop to just one square meter. Missing item =
Since the stock takes and cycle counts are performed with RFID
in this shop, the database information is more trustworthy and you
can be almost certain that you are not searching for the missing
item in vain.
If the shop is equipped with RFID gates at the entrance, the
database has also reduced the stolen items from the stock
automatically, i.e. the stock is accurate. And, since RFID
shops have close to daily cycle counts of all items, the RFID
device could be set to alerting whenever it finds an item that has
been misplaced. The misplaced item is moved to its right location
straight away and the need for customers to even ask for item
search assistance in the first place is minimized dramatically.
The goods-in process with pen & paper or barcode
Checking, counting and transferring incoming items manually to
the backend system takes a lot of time and mistakes happen far too
easily. If the staff is busy serving customers, unopened and
unchecked boxes of items that haven't been registered as received
may lie in the backroom for ages and, as a result, they don't get
sold. The goods-in process with pen & paper or barcode systems
usually looks like this:
- A box of items arrive at the shop
- When the staff has time or while the shop is closed, the box is
opened and each item is checked and counted manually to make sure
the right items have arrived
- The product data is fed into the backend system (all items
separately) either by scanning the barcode or by feeding the
product information manually
- The items are moved to the shop floor
The goods-in process with RFID:
- A box of items arrive at the shop
- The box is scanned with a mobile or fixed reader in a few
seconds and a list of items appears on the screen. If the list
matches the list of incoming items, all the staff member has to do
is to "accept it", and the backend system is automatically
- The items are moved to the shop floor
With RFID the goods-in process is easy and stress-free. The
items are almost immediately in the backend system and can be moved
directly to the shop floor without even opening a single box
Associating barcodes to RFID tags
Depending on what kind of shop and delivery chain you have, when
implementing RFID you will either have the products tagged at
manufacturing, DC or in the shop backroom. If you are tagging
products in the backroom, you will need to associate the barcode
information to the RFID tags of each product. But no need to worry,
it's extremely easy:
- Attach an RFID tag to an item (usually a sticker tag or a hard
- Read the barcode with an RFID and barcode reader
- Choose "associate", or a similar command that your device
offers, and read the RFID tag. DONE!
Now the barcode EAN product code and all the information related
to it is associated to the tag, and additionally the item has
received an individual ID. If needed, you can add more product
information to the database and/or tag in your backend system.
If prices need to be marked down, this change too can be made
directly to the tag by:
- Reading the tag
- Choosing "change price" or similar command
- Feeding the new price
- Accepting the change
Now the backend system will know about the price markdown
without the staff even having to touch a computer. This works
although your system isn't wireless, since the tag will inform the
backend system about the price change as it is scanned by the RFID
reader at the POS system. Many shops have a problem with customers
moving markdown price stickers from one product to another. With
RFID, this will not go by unnoticed.
4. POS - POINT OF SALE
The classic way of performing check-out is to:
- Scan all barcodes separately or feed a product code or name and
possible a price to the POS system
- Check that all items got scanned/fed and that the price is
right (no price markdown stickers have gone unnoticed)
- Fold and package the items
- Cash inMistakes happen easily as staff members are stressing
over long queues. It's easy to miss or forget to scan an item -
especially if the customer is buying a lot of them. The process
takes a lot of time and double-checking is often needed. If the
queues get too long, many customers will simply give up and leave
the shop without buying anything.
RFID makes the POS process faster:
- Place all items on the counter and, voila, they are all
- (Disable the tags if that is the shop policy)
- Fold and bag the items
- Cash in
There is no need to waste time on double- or triple-checking.
All items have been scanned and they all have the right price. And
the best of all, the check-out process is fast and the other
customers don't have to wait in long queues.
5. RFID IN FITTING ROOMS
Adopting RFID in fitting rooms is a hot topic now, and the RFID
enabled fitting rooms go under the name of "Smart fitting rooms". A
quick explanation of the concept would be: a fitting room equipped
with a fixed RFID reader and a tablet. The RFID reader
automatically scans the items that are taken into the fitting room
and with the help of the tablet customers can get more information,
give feedback, order another size etc. So, the biggest benefit of
smart fitting rooms is better customer service. But even if the
customer doesn't use the tablet, there is very valuable information
to be collected from observing what items customers tend to bring
to the fitting rooms and what happens to them afterwards. Last but
not least, you'll know where your items are at all times.
HANDLING TECHNOLOGY CHANGES
Although new technology might be scary, RFID is one of those
technologies that need not be. Implementing RFID will on the
contrary make the working day of the staff easier to manage. For
more information about handling introduction of the technology to
employees, read this
Recommended watching: Many of the applications above have been
described in the video RFID & Privacy.