A comprehensive guide on RFID implementation in retail industry

Who imagined a World War technology that was once used to detect aircraft could become a game-changer in the modern retail industry? Since then, RFIDs are helping humankind to detect objects. As time passes, applications change. From detecting aircraft in WW-II to tracking products in a supermarket, RFIDs have come a long way today.

IBM was the first company to commercialise RFID technology in the 1990s. In the 2000s, realising its potential, retail juggernauts like Walmart and Mark & Spencer spent millions of dollars to broaden RFID’s horizon. Thence, it boosted their sales, optimised inventory levels, and reduced the staff costs. These events embarked on the successful journey of RFIDs in the retail industry.

Today, the retail industries envisage their future through RFID technology. Imagine a scenario where you walk into a store, add items to your cart and walk straight out of the store. We all aspire to shop like this instead of waiting in long queues at the billing counter. By using RFID, Amazon Go has already made ‘just walk out’ possible. RFIDs, along with artificial intelligence and computer vision, helps the billing system to identify the products and send the receipt to their customers.

The potential of RFID technology lies beyond our imagination. Like Amazon, innovations like Tesco’s ‘scan as you shop’ and Ralph Lauren’s interactive fitting room mirrors paves the way for advanced research into RFIDs, and we can expect more wonders in the near future.

Benefits of RFID in Retail

When barcodes first came into the limelight, they took retail customer service to a whole new level. It eliminated billing errors, long queues, and misplacement of products, helping companies deliver efficient services. The RFIDs escalated it by mitigating the shortcomings of barcode technology, efficiently dealing with a wide variety of products and large crowds.

Easy to track the products:

When dealing with countless products of different types, RFID technology becomes handy. It helps storekeepers to get a clear picture of the supply chain from manufacturing to distribution. They can easily track whether the products got packed, shipped or delivered at their stores. Moreover, tracking products also makes the store easily manageable for the employees.

Multiple scans at once:

The long-tiresome queues and the constant beeps of barcode scanners best describe supermarkets on weekends. These time-consuming scans and random barcode damages present the worst nightmare for any shopper. In a shopaholic world, slow-scanning barcode systems alone cannot fulfil the growing customer demands. On the other hand, RFIDs perform multiple scans at once. RFID implementation in the retail industry reduces checkout times and delivers error-free services to customers.

Inventory optimisation:

Stock availability is crucial for today’s retail industry. Nobody prefers visiting a store twice to get desired items. Most stores keep accurate stock data for replenishing the stock on time and publish it through their websites. They also keep item lists in the stores, allowing customers to find their desired items quickly. Such new trends give an accurate picture of why inventory optimisation is necessary. RFID implementation in the retail industry helps retailers track and count items, keeping an updated stock data. The activities like stock correction, counting, reorder planning and dispatch can be done accurately and efficiently using RFID systems.

Challenges to RFID implementation in the retail industry

At some point in our life, we all have made poor investment choices, be it buying simple footwear or investing millions in a business firm. Mostly, instead of focusing on requirements, we go with the global trends. It can be perfect for some, satisfactory for a few others, and completely unfit for the rest. The same goes for RFID technology. Though it is a hot favourite in the retail sector, it doesn’t mean that implementing RFID assures success. So, before implementing RFID technology in an organisation, we must be completely aware of the requirements and the challenges ahead.

The capital constraints:

Despite software or hardware, RFIDs are costlier than the other asset tracking systems. The cost will vary depending on the type of tags and readers used. Tags can be classified as passive/semi-passive/active based on the inclusion of battery and near-field/ far-field based on the technology used. The readers range from hand-held readers to door-sized readers seen at supermarkets. Even if you manage to find the most suitable RFID, implementing the system requires capital. Implementing RFID becomes feasible only if you do thorough research on the organisation’s present and future requirements.

Employee constraints:

Unlike barcodes, RFID technology is tougher to grasp. Having technology doesn’t guarantee efficiency; its proper utilisation will. Hence, before implementing RFIDs, the organisations should provide sufficient training to their employees on properly operating the RFID systems. Moreover, they should be educated on maintenance and service activities post-implementation.
Apart from training concerns, the redistribution of manpower is a major issue. Installing RFIDs helps to automate and optimise some processes, reducing the reliance on manual labour. The absence of a proper plan to re-assign the employees can result in excessive manpower in the organisation.

Product and packaging material

To implement an efficient RFID system, knowing the product is quite important. You cannot tag a polo t-shirt and a smart band with the same RFID tags. The changes are not only confined to the tag’s size but also with the price, type and technology used. It is important to select the most affordable tags for your business.
The packaging is another concern while selecting RFID tags. Unlike barcodes, RFIDs use radio waves, making them immune to opaque barriers. Hence, RFID tags can be put inside the packaging. This goes well in the case of cardboards, plastics or foam packaging. When it comes to metal or liquid things, it is altogether different. The deflection and absorption by these materials demand better RFIDs than usual.

Implementing RFID – Best Way

Installing the RFID system is as pivotal as selecting a suitable RFID system. Any technical glitches during installation render long-term consequences, leading to inefficiency. Hence, we should always follow standard guidelines to ensure the proper installation of the RFID system.

Identifying the problem

Before making an investment, giving some thought to its purpose is essential. For successfully installing RFID, we need to explore its pros and cons, the inefficiencies it can mitigate and how it fulfils the organisation’s requirements. To get a clear picture of organisational requirements, identifying the bottlenecks in the current system is necessary.

Setting a goal

As mentioned above, the bottlenecks reveal an organisation’s requirements. Drafting a goal based on the requirements is vital for the steady implementation of the RFID system. Moreover, having clear goals makes it easier to identify and rectify the errors during the installation.

Map the process and select the technology

The plant layouts and action plans are essential in the installation as they contain all information regarding the processes involved. The planning committee should conduct a discussion on the implementation techniques and needs to review all the processes mentioned. Such brainstorming sessions help in ameliorating the unnoticed errors, if any.
Since different varieties of RFIDs are available in the market, you need to adopt the most suitable one for your organisation. While choosing, you should consider the product-tag size ratio, price, working principle, compactness and reader compatibility of the RFID tags. Selecting the right technology saves money and also ensures maximum efficiency for future RFID operations.

Budget report

Compared to other asset tracking mechanisms, RFIDs are a bit costlier too. So, drafting a budget report is necessary for the smooth implementation of the system. Additionally, for calculating the return of investment and annual maintenance costs, this report may become handy.

Training the team

While implementing an RFID system, the company must ensure that all employees are informed about the basic operations and troubleshooting techniques. In addition, the managers should receive more in-depth training on the technical aspects. The more the employees are aware of how to manage RFID technology, the more efficient will be the system performance.

The pilot execution and expansion

Although we have made the maximum possible effort to cross-check the processes and to complete the installation, still errors are inevitable. Implementing RFID on a small scale helps to evaluate the ROI and to obtain feedback on the technology adopted. So, running a pilot is essential because it allows the space for modifications before completely stepping into the system. If the pilot is successful, then we can take the next step and expand the system to the entire organisation.

How Technowave Helps

Technowave has been providing RFID solutions for the last 20 years. Our easyTRACK RFID solutions have been assisting RFID implementation in the retail industry, pan India. We also provide you with a wide range of hardware like RFID label printers, wristband printers, RFID readers, antennas, etc., from globally recognised brands like Zebra technologies, Datalogic, Nordic ID, Impinj and Omini ID. Moreover, the complete guide for the installation is available from our side. If you’re interested in RFID solutions, take the next step and contact us immediately.

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