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RFID Brings Lululemon's Inventory Accuracy to 98 Percent

The yoga and sports apparel retailer has increased its e-commerce sales by tracking the locations of millions of goods as they move throughout its stores.
By Claire Swedberg

Tags are not typically interrogated at the distribution centers. The first read usually takes place when goods are received at one of the stores. For this purpose, staff members use a TSL sled handheld reader attached to an Apple iPod, running a TrueVue app, to read the RFID tags, capture each item's Electronic Product Code (EPC) number and forward the EPC to the TrueVue software residing in lululemon's data center. The Tyco software then updates the item's status as received.

Upon moving merchandise from the back room to the sales floor, workers update each item's status by reading its RFID tag via a Tyco Sensormatic RFID reader with a Zebra pad antenna, connected to a touchscreen PC.

Personnel conduct weekly inventory counts via the handheld TSL reader, both on the sales floor and in the back room. According to the company, it takes about a half hour to conduct the count at each location.

When a customer purchases a product, a store employee utilizes a Zebra DS9808-R RFID scanner installed at the sales desk to read the EPC number and bar-coded UPC, and the system updates that item's inventory status as sold in the TrueVue software. Restocking data for all items purchased is then displayed on a screen running TrueVue in the back room, and is also available to the RFID-enabled iPods used for mobile restocking.

Early on during the RFID installation process, lululemon had to overcome some physical challenges in order to ensure accurate tag reads. Each of the company's stores average 3,000 square feet in size, with a high density of product contained within that space. In fact, the firm claims to have some of the highest sales per square foot among all retailers within the United States, and indicates that its products do not remain in the store for long. While traditional retailers have four major seasons, with product "living" in the store for three months, lululemon's average product lifecycle is less than 45 days.

Stores receive shipments five times a week, consisting of two drops of new product merchandise and five drops of replenishment items. Each inbound shipment to the store is composed of dozens of cartons, densely filled with product averaging 35 to 65 units per carton.

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