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Bloomingdale's and Others Say RFID Works

Early adopters conducted many tests to prove that it does, which means companies considering the technology can focus on the business benefits it will likely deliver.
By Mark Roberti
May 13, 2013

I asked Roger Blazek, Bloomingdale's VP of shortage control, to deliver the opening keynote at RFID Journal LIVE! 2013, because I believed our audience would benefit from hearing about the retailer's journey. Blazek and Pam Sweeney, the senior VP of logistics systems at parent company Macy's, understood early on the potential benefits of radio frequency identification. They took a measured, business-oriented approach to testing the technology, quantifying the potential benefits and planning a rollout.

During his keynote, Blazek said he first had to convince himself that the technology worked. Testing conducted at the University of Arkansas' RFID Research Center proved the tags could be read, but that was within a controlled environment. He told Bill Hardgrave, then the head of the facility, that he wasn't sure it would work within Bloomingdale's store environment. "I want to know if I pull the trigger, will it scan?" he asked. "And if it scans, will it pick up everything it's supposed to pick up?"

Bloomingdale's conducted six months' testing at its stores, because Blazek wanted to be sure the technology would support store processes before selling it to senior management. "I can tell you," he said, "there were many times when you went home thinking 'This is not going to work out. It is too much time and too much effort.'" But he also realized if they could make it work, the benefits would be enormous. Eventually, he became a believer, and senior management became more confident in the technology.

Bloomingdale's carried out its first pilot at its Soho, New York, store, in fall 2008. The pilot suggested that RFID could improve inventory accuracy by 27.2 percent and reduce cycle counting time by 96 percent. The results were documented by the RFID Research Center.

Blazek talked about the importance of change management. During that first pilot, store managers believed all the styles, colors and sizes of items being tracked were represented on the sales floor. The RFID data showed that while all the styles were on the floor, some of the colors and sizes were in the back room but not on the floor. "It took nine weeks, almost 10, to convince the store management [in Soho] that they needed to change," he said. This was no knock on the seasoned professionals there. It is the reality in retail today, and every retailer that deploys RFID will go through this process.

Blazek took the audience all the way through the Bloomingdale's journey and explained the steps that led Macy's and Bloomingdale's to decide to use RFID enterprise-wide. It's a fabulous presentation, and I encourage you to view it in our video library, even if you are not in retail (see Bloomingdale's Journey from RFID Concept to Rollout, Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3). But I think the important message he delivered was that early adopters did all the testing and worked with technology providers to improve the technology where it needed to be improved, and RFID is now ready for widespread use in retail.

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