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Decathlon Sees Sales Rise and Shrinkage Drop, Aided by RFID

The French sporting goods retailer is using RFID technology at all of its stores and warehouses.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 07, 2015

French sporting goods retailer Decathlon says its sales increased by 11 percent last year, and attributes part of that growth to an ambitious radio frequency identification deployment at all of its 951 stores worldwide, as well as at approximately 43 warehouses (logistics centers). During the same time period (2014), the company experienced a 9 percent reduction in shrinkage, says Jean-Marc Lieby, Decathlon's RFID project leader. Most of the stores are now using RFID technology for inventory checks at the point of sale and at security gates. The company's stores in India and Brazil, however, are using RFID only for tracking inventory. As the firm opens new stores around the world, those sites will also become RFID-enabled.

The retailer credits about 2.5 percent of the sales increase to improved stock availability due to the RFID-based inventory-tracking system. However, the company adds, the launching of new stores and decreases in the prices of some of its merchandise also played a role.

At a Decathlon store, a worker uses an Embisphere handheld RFID reader to take inventory.
Decathlon is one of the largest sporting goods and sportswear retailers worldwide, with a presence throughout Europe, as well as in China, Morocco, India and Brazil. The retailer ships 650 million items annually in a total of 50,000 containers. About 85 percent of the products are eligible for RFID-tagging, Lieby says.

The stores themselves vary in size and in the merchandise they carry. They typically measure 1,000 to 12,000 square meters (10,800 to 129,000 square feet) in size and offer an average of 35,000 different items for sale, covering 65 different sports.

Each store also has a "cashing" system in which an Embisphere reader is built into the point-of-sale terminal.
About five years ago, Lieby says, the company began investigating ways in which EPC ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID technology could improve inventory accuracy across its many stores and logistics centers, thereby ensuring that products were on store shelves when customers needed them. That effort was led by Patrice Ribout—who, at that time, served as the RFID project's founder and coordinator, and as the RFID leader at Oxylane Group, Decathlon's parent company. According to a Decathlon survey, the first source of dissatisfaction for a customer is always the same: failing to find a product on the shelf. The company was also interested in enabling faster and easier transactions at the point of sale for shoppers, and thus began researching how RFID tags on products might make that possible as well.

After researching various RFID companies and the solutions they offered, Decathlon launched its own RFID firm in 2010. That company, known as Embisphere, designs, manufactures and deploys both RFID software and hardware, not only for Decathlon but for other retail customers as well.

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