American Apparel, Postmates Use RFID Visibility for On-Demand Delivery

By Claire Swedberg

Postmates is offering one-hour delivery of the clothing company's products in 31 cities, using RFID data that tells shoppers which goods are available within their geographical area.

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Consumers who use Postmates‘ on-demand delivery service now have the opportunity to buy core products from American Apparel. The service takes advantage of the passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags that American Apparel attaches to all of its merchandise, enabling Postmates to identify which items are available within an individual customer’s geographic area.

On Mar. 21, Postmates began offering American Apparel products from 79 of the garment company’s stores across 31 metropolitan U.S. markets, says Thoryn Stephens, American Apparel’s chief digital officer. While Postmates delivers products from other retailers that don’t use RFID, Stephens says, it would be challenging since such a company would lack a clear idea of which products are in stock at which location on any particular day.

American Apparel’s Thoryn Stephens

Postmates is designed to provide online shoppers with products, including restaurant meals, groceries and office supplies, within an hour of purchase. The Postmates app enables consumers to use their smartphones to order products easily and receive them quickly. American Apparel is the first clothing retailer partner of Postmates to be available through the app. Individuals can select from approximately 50 core items for men and women, including socks, T-shirts and hoodies. Postmates charges a $1.99 fee for delivery.

Typically, Postmates can assume that product inventory is available with regard to such partners as restaurants and coffee shops, but in the case of stores at which a limited quantity of products—clothing, for instance—are sold and replenished, inventory may not always be available, making it difficult to sell through a fast delivery service. With the use of RFID, however, Postmates indicates that inventory data will be more accurate, and the process of delivering the purchased merchandise to a customer will be 15 to 20 minutes faster. When a shopper places an order, the closest American Apparel store automatically receives a message about that order, and can thus have the requested items ready for pickup within a few minutes. A store employee can use a handheld RFID reader to quickly locate the ordered goods, and then check them out as sold, via the Postmates system.

American Apparel has used EPC UHF RFID tags on all of its products for several years, Stephens says, at all of its retail stores throughout more than 18 countries. RFID hangtags, made with RFID inlays supplied by Avery Dennison and LS Industrial Systems, are applied to American Apparel’s products at the point of manufacture. The company is using RFID readers to manage all transactions at the store that add or remove merchandise from inventory, he says, with three fixed UHF RFID reader portals installed within each store—one at the point of sale, a second for receiving products in the back room and a third for tracking the replenishment of goods on the sales floor.

The company employs a combination of Zebra Technologies (Motorola) FX7400 and Alien Technology ALR-9900 readers for this purpose. In addition, workers at each store use a handheld Motorola FX3190-Z or Nordic ID Merlin reader to reconcile the inventory at each store once weekly, by walking past all shelves. This process, he explains, brings inventory accuracy at any given time to about 99 percent.

Read data is captured by SML Intelligent Inventory Solutions (IIS) software, which also interprets and displays that information for use by company personnel. American Apparel, Stephens reports, has been piloting a Senitron real-time location system at three stores (see American Apparel Deploys Real-Time Storewide RFID Inventory-Management Solution).

“RFID gives [us the] possibility to get more than 99 percent inventory accuracy at all times, which gives [the] possibility to never disappoint customers with missing inventory,” Stephens states. This feature, he adds, is “also crucial to our IoT and omnichannel strategies.”

With the Postmates app and Web-based system, customers can shop for American Apparel merchandise, place orders and pay for those purchases. The SML software forwards the collected RFID data to Postmates’ own management software. So when an individual shops from a specific geographic region, the Postmates system searches the updated inventory list for the stores in that area, and displays only products (such as shirts) in stock at those locations.

When a customer places an order, an alert is sent to the American Apparel store in that individual’s area, indicating that a product has been purchased and that a Postmates courier is en route to pick it up. An employee pulls that item and uses an RFID reader to update its status as sold, via the Postmates system. The Postmates courier then picks up the ordered merchandise and delivers it to the customer.

According to Stephens, American Apparel is now developing a mobile point-of-sale (POS) system that is being tested at a Los Angeles store, in which workers equipped with tablets could complete a payment transaction for a customer so that he or she would not need to proceed to a sales counter and stand in line. The solution would include a mobile reader linked to that tablet, enabling it to automatically update inventory data. The retailer is also investigating a system for online inventory replenishment, Stephens adds, by which orders would be made automatically based on inventory counts gathered by RFID reads.