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Marks & Spencer Leads the Way

The world's largest item-level apparel retail RFID deployment shows the technology's value.
By Mark Roberti

As a result, the company expects to be RFID-tracking all cosmetics, pastes, metal products, stacked products and products with foil packaging, which have typically been among the hardest to read, by 2015. "If you had asked me six months ago if we would be able to tag these products by 2015, I would have said I don't know," Phillips said. "Six months from now, there will be even more advancements. Six months to a year is a long time in the RFID industry. The technology is improving in leaps and bounds, and [the pace of innovation] is accelerating all the time."

Phillips talked about the need to conduct training and ensure that store employees follow the new processes. "Good change management and compliance reporting is essential," he explains. He also stressed that while there are many areas in which RFID can be used and many benefits that can be achieved, "you need to focus on one or two areas that will deliver a return on investment."

In addition, Phillips showed a slide listing 16 touch points where RFID might be used to collect data and improve processes, though he cautioned that it is important to achieve a return on investment (ROI) on a single application and then add others. The one application on which M&S is focused is improving inventory accuracy and on-shelf availability. "We are looking at some of these other areas," he said. "We'd be foolish not to—but you can't do it all at once."

According to Phillips, M&S is currently trialing a new footwear application at three of its stores. Shoes are tagged, and a shopper can bring a pair to a shelf containing an interactive display. The shoes' tag is read, and the screen shows handbags and other accessories that coordinate with that specific pair. M&S considered the same application two years ago, he noted, but did not feel it would deliver an ROI at that time. Since then, however, the technology has evolved to the point at which it now looks like it will provide a return. Upselling in this way, Phillips said, is one of the 16 additional areas in which RFID could deliver added benefits.

Phillips said he got into RFID because he was M&S' "packaging guy." He was thus asked to buy the tags, but he became a big believer in the technology's benefits. "I'm very passionate about RFID," he stated, "which is strange, because I'm a packaging guy."

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark's opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, the Editor's Note archive or RFID Connect.

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