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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

At the stores, employees use an Embisphere handheld to perform inventory counts. The reader, which is shaped like a small badminton racket, is lightweight and has a long handle so that it can reach high shelves easily. Workers each carry a smartphone, and the reader transmits its read data to the phone via a Bluetooth connection. Those store associates can then pass the device over each shelf of goods and view the inventory count on their smartphone, and the phone forwards that data to the inventory software on Decathlon's database.

Every store also has a "cashing" system in which an Embisphere reader is built into each point-of-sale terminal. At the cashing stations, workers receive goods from a customer and place them above the reader, which captures all tag IDs simultaneously. Bar-code labels are scanned only for the 15 percent of Decathlon's products that are ineligible for RFID. If there is an EAS hard tag present, that tag is removed via a detacher at the point of sale, and can then be reused on other products.

At certain logistics centers, Decathlon workers push an Embisphere reader on a moveable cart through rows of products in order to capture inventory updates.
Upon leaving the store, shoppers walk between antennas at an RFID and EAS gate. Checkpoint and Nedap are both providing reader and antenna hardware for the gates. Checkpoint reports that Decathlon has installed Checkpoint's dual-mode Evolve Exclusive E10 RF- and RFID-based antennas throughout 19 countries. Nedap announced in June that its hybrid RFID and RF EAS gates have been installed in 415 Decathlon stores across 15 countries. Stores that had Nedap EAS gates that were installed prior to the RFID rollout were upgraded with a clip-in Nedap RFID reader, while new stores were equipped with hybrid RFID-RF gates from the outset.

Each store's electronic article surveillance system detects any EAS hard tags that pass through the gate, while at the same time, the RFID soft tag is interrogated and its data is transmitted back to the software, which determines if that item has been sold. If all goods were purchased, the customer can simply walk out of the store. If not, the security system prompts an alarm that will warn that individual to stop.

The RFID deployment at all stores was accomplished between March and June of 2014. The company took about one month within that time to train each store's workers. "This was not so simple to organize," Lieby says, since the deployment was being carried out throughout 17 countries, with a variety of languages spoken. However, he says, staff members responded well to the new technology and understood the value it provided.

According to Lieby, the technology has not only improved stores' inventory accuracy (although the improvement varies from store to store and from one country to another, depending on whether the RFID technology is being used as intended), but also reduced labor on the part of workers who track inventory. Most stores can now conduct inventory checks five times faster than they did manually, and these locations are performing inventory checks about twice as often. The retailer is now studying new use cases related to RFID technology, though it declines to identify any specific plans. "What's important to us," he states, "is improvements for our customers and team members."

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