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The Best Retail RFID Deployment

It's difficult to compare deployments by different retailers, but Marks & Spencer is certainly a company that others should look to emulate.
By Mark Roberti
Jan 15, 2018

A reader recently submitted this question to our Ask the Experts forum: "In your opinion, what has been the best rollout of RFID in retail, and why?" It's a great question, deserving of a full and complete answer, so I am addressing it in my weekly column, rather than in an a more abbreviated response on the forum.

Companies have different goals for their RFID project and different approaches to the market, so it's not easy to compare retail deployments. If one retailer is a low-cost provider and uses RFID to cut costs, while another is a high-end retailer that uses RFID to enhance the customer experience, how can you say one deployment is better than the other if they both achieve what they set out to do?

That being said, I think it's worth talking about the deployment I admire most. That would be the one achieved by Marks & Spencer, a United Kingdom-based retail chain. There are a few things I admire about the way in which M&S went about its implementation of RFID:

1. Patience: M&S conducted a lot of research into the value of RFID for tracking apparel. The company launched its first apparel-tracking pilot back in 2003 (see EPC in Fashion at Marks & Spencer). It then expanded the pilot and worked with solution providers to improve passive UHF RFID systems, which were then in their infancy. As RFID developed and improved, the company kept looking at how the technology could deliver value.

2. Total discipline: M&S identified 23 areas of the business in which RFID could deliver value, but when presenting the business case to the board, senior executives focused on just one: improving on-shelf availability. The potential increase in revenue from having the right item in the proper place when a customer wanted to buy it would increase margins by reducing mark-downs. That alone would pay for the deployment. The additional use cases would be tackled only after the initial benefits were achieved.

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