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Adler Modemarkte Rolls Out RFID Robot Across 45 Stores

After several years of piloting the technology to prove it can bring automated inventory visibility to its stores, the fashion retailer is expanding MetraLabs' TORY robotic technology this summer, with plans to equip all 175 shops by 2021.
By Claire Swedberg

According to Trabert, the antenna array was designed "to yield high accuracy and read rates in typical retail scenarios—both very tall and low shelves, stuffed boxes of merchandise, and multi-path-propagation problems due to metal shelving." While the initial version of the robot had an array of 11 antennas, the latest iteration has 16, thus expanding the read area, as well as making reading faster and more sensitive.

To launch the inventory-tracking functionality, a user at each store sets up the robot's route or coverage area. This is accomplished using a temporarily attached touchscreen on the robot, or a remote PC connection via Wi-Fi, to communicate with its onboard software. The software displays instructions on the touchscreen to guide users through the process of setting up a new "scan area."

The retailer's own database software stores data indicating what inventory should be located at each store shelf or on each rack. If the robot fails to capture the tag ID numbers of the items expected at a given location, the device can return to that section to attempt another reading. It can also circle back for a second read in areas where tagged items are densely packed together, meaning the likelihood of a missed tag read is high, then forward data about any missing items via Wi-Fi. The robot accomplishes its inventory-counting tasks approximately 10 times faster than a manual count and more accurately than with a handheld reader, Trabert reports, based on user trials carried out with retailers.

The transition from pilot to rollout at scores of stores, Schiller says, has required modifications to manage the large amount of inventory data the robot is collecting. "The challenges during rollout are in the data volumes that are generated every night and have to be processed and booked in the RFID system and the ERP [enterprise resource planning system]." At the TORY-operated stores, he says, "We make a full inventory every night, [which] we did once a year in the past."

One of Adler's main goals, beyond better inventory visibility, is to reduce the incidence of out-of-stock events, Schiller says. In addition, the company hopes to gain analytics from the solution that will help it with future planning. "We will also be able to track the movement of articles through the shops and thus optimize space," he states.

The retailer plans to equip all 175 shops with a TORY robot by 2021. "Our goal is to further increase inventory security and avoid misplacements," Schiller explains. "In addition, our employees can use the additional time freed up for sales. This was also the basis for the business case." By using the TORY system, he notes, the company can measurably reduce inventory disparities. "Due to the large areas of our shops, we can generate targeted replenishment suggestions with the RFID search." According to Trabert, Adler is rolling out the system at a rate of two new robots every week.

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