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High-end Clothing Factory Outlet Uses RTLS to Manage Inventory

The real-time location system is enabling stores operated by Diffusione Tessile, a division of the Max Mara Group, to improve customer service—and, hopefully, sales—by providing nearly 100 percent inventory visibility.
By Claire Swedberg
May 02, 2016

Diffusione Tessile (DITE), the factory outlet division of fashion retailer Max Mara Group, is employing an RFID-based real-time location system (RTLS) to reduce lines at its service counter and ensure that customers can find the products they seek. The system, installed at the company's high-volume Pomezia store (near the city of Rome), was provided by ID Solutions SRL, a spinoff company of the University of Parma's RFID Lab. The solution includes 13 EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID readers linked to a total of 254 antennas via multiplexers. ID Solutions' RFID middleware captures the data and forwards it to a Web application available to store associates.

The system was designed as part of the EU-funded, RFID-based Sensor-Enabled, Real-world Awareness for Management Information System (SERAMIS) project. SERAMIS has been working to foster the real-world use of RFID systems in Italy for the past two years, and DITE (which has declined to comment for this story) is a member of the project consortium.

The Diffusione Tessile factory outlet in Pomezia has a total of 253 Laird far-field circular polarized UHF reader antennas installed in its ceiling.
While many retailers use passive UHF RFID tags to track the movements of goods at key locations via portal readers, utilizing an RTLS solution to track those tagged goods in stores is less common. Retailers that employ RFID often know when goods were received—and, in some cases, when they are purchased—based on EPC UHF tag reads, but conducting inventory counts of merchandise on the the sales floor still tends to require that an employee periodically walk around the store with a handheld reader.

The RTLS solution being used by Diffusione Tessile is the result of exhaustive research and testing at the University of Parma's RFID Lab, says Antonio Rizzi, an industrial logistics and supply chain management professor at the university. The Diffusione Tessile situation is uniquely challenging and serves as a good test case for RTLS technology, says Rizzi, who will describe the project in detail this week's RFID Journal LIVE! conference and exhibition, during a presentation on May 3. The DITE store in Pomezia is large—about 20,000 square feet, with 15,000 products on the sales floor at any given time, and another 40,000 or more in the back room. Several hundred customers shop there daily, and the store is open seven days a week, 12 hours a day. Customers often struggle to locate the exact items they seek. The retailer estimates that before RFID was in place, up to 10 percent of sales were lost due to customers simply not finding products that were, in fact, available in the store.

A single sales desk is dedicated for customer questions, and a queue often forms at that desk, while customers wait to inquire whether different sizes or colors are available, or where specific items can be found in the store. In many cases, a sales associate working at the desk has had to enter the back room and physically search for an item that a customer could not find on the sales floor. In the meantime, the queue could become longer and the customer, left alone, might leave the store.

The store could use a handheld reader to provide more accurate inventory on the sales floor. Because the site is so large, however, inventory checks with handheld readers would require one to two hours of employee labor.

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