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RFID – 5 most common applications on the shop floor

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.


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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 well.

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:

  1. Close the shop.
  2. Divide your staff into groups with designated counting areas.
  3. Give each group lists of what needs to be counted.
  4. 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.
  5. Misplaced items found along the way are moved and added to the numbers causing confusion and unclear results.
  6. 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.
  7. The first-round results are often wrong and demand a recount.
  8. Perhaps even a third recount for some items groups.
  9. Clean-up and arrangement of items.
  10. 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:

  1. Designate (only) a few staff members to taking inventory / performing cycle count
  2. Define what needs counting and set the mobile devices accordingly
  3. 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).
  4. 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 updated.

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:

  1. Start searching.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 permanently missing.

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:

  1. 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 easier.
  2. 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
  3. 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 = found!

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.

3. GOODS-IN

The goods-in process with pen & paper or barcode system:

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:

  1. A box of items arrive at the shop
  2. 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
  3. The product data is fed into the backend system (all items separately) either by scanning the barcode or by feeding the product information manually
  4. The items are moved to the shop floor


The goods-in process with RFID:

  1. A box of items arrive at the shop
  2. 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 updated
  3. 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 first.


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:

  1. Attach an RFID tag to an item (usually a sticker tag or a hard pin)
  2. Read the barcode with an RFID and barcode reader
  3. 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:

  1. Reading the tag
  2. Choosing "change price" or similar command
  3. Feeding the new price
  4. 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:

  1. Scan all barcodes separately or feed a product code or name and possible a price to the POS system
  2. Check that all items got scanned/fed and that the price is right (no price markdown stickers have gone unnoticed)
  3. Fold and package the items
  4. 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:

  1. Place all items on the counter and, voila, they are all automatically read
  2. (Disable the tags if that is the shop policy)
  3. Fold and bag the items
  4. Cash in

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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 article.

Recommended watching: Many of the applications above have been described in the video RFID & Privacy.

3 comments on “RFID – 5 most common applications on the shop floor”

  1. Gravatar of Ntshuxeko MakhubeleNtshuxeko Makhubele
    Posted 28 November 2015 at 07:10:04

    Hi,
    where can i buy one of this scanners ?

  2. Gravatar of Suvi DalénSuvi Dalén
    Posted 30 November 2015 at 15:25:41

    Hello,

    Nordic ID provides RFID readers. At http://www.nordicid.com/en/home/wheretobuy/ you find the contact information.

  3. Posted 16 October 2017 at 22:59:41

    Beaver says I also have such interest, you can read my profile here:

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