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RFID Reading Robot Automates Decathlon Store's Inventory Management

The company's flagship sporting goods store, located in San Francisco, is leveraging Simbe Robotics' Tally robot to automate inventory counts, locate missing products and enable analytics about products of interest, while RFID readers at the door help to prevent loss.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 14, 2018

Since Decathlon USA, opened its doors in November 2017, it has saved labor costs and boosted inventory accuracy with an EPC UHF RFID reading robot. The robot enables the sporting goods store, located in San Francisco, to automatically capture data not only about the inventory it has on hand, but also where goods are located and when they might be misplaced.

Decathlon has already been using RFID to manage inventory at its stores throughout Europe and Asia (see Decathlon Sees Sales Rise and Shrinkage Drop, Aided by RFID and Decathlon Scores a Big Win With RFID). When it planned the opening of a flagship store in the United States, the firm considered new ways to use the technology, and selected a robotic system from Simbe Robotics. Simbe's Tally robot was initially launched to use computer vision to manage activities at a store, including pricing, as well as monitoring which products are on which shelves. It has more recently been providing RFID reading functionality with its robot.

The Tally robot enables stores to automate inventory counts, find missing items, obtain analytics and prevent loss.
Decathlon is the world's largest sporting goods retailer, but until this year, it lacked a presence in the United States. The company opened its first store in Lille, France, in 1976, and now operates approximately 1,414 locations worldwide. The San Francisco Lab Store aims to collect feedback from customers about their products, and to then use that information to innovate. It has more than 10,000 products onsite, spanning more than 80 sports, and nearly all goods are stored on the shop floor.

Since Decathlon already applies RFID tags to most of its merchandise at the point of manufacture, it chose to leverage the RFID functionality in a robot to spare store associates from having to undertake the time-consuming task of walking through aisles with a handheld RFID reader in order to count products.

"All our goods have RFID tagging," says Tony Leon, Decathlon's CTO. "By helping our team with inventory, Tally allows our staff to spend more time interacting and engaging with customers, and less time behind the scenes counting products." The robot makes its way through store aisles seven days a week, with the aim of capturing an inventory read of every item at least once daily, explains Brad Bogolea, Simbe Robotics' CEO and co-founder.

Decathlon provides a uniquely challenging environment for tracking inventory. Since nearly all of its products are available on the sales floor, it's vital that the company understand which goods require replenishment and which might be shelved incorrectly. In the sporting goods environment, however, customers often pick up a product and carry it to another part of the store. For instance, Bogolea says, it's not unusual to see someone taking a bicycle or a skateboard for a test ride inside the store, and then not returning the bike or board to its intended location.

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