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Charles Voegele Group Finds RFID Helps It Stay Competitive

Switzerland's largest clothing retailer says that despite the economic recession, the best time for retailers and product suppliers to invest in RFID technology is now.
By Claire Swedberg
Those "black holes have been quite interesting to us," Beckmann said. The company wanted to learn where product was delayed or misrouted, or where other supply chain problems emerged. In addition, he noted, Vögele wanted to employ RFID technology to improve its customer service, so it chose to tag at the item level. The goal was to have all products available on store racks for customers to purchase. By using RFID, the clothing retailer aimed to ensure there were no out-of-stocks at the stores, thus resulting in lost sales. To address all of these issues, especially during the economic recession, the firm has sought out innovative solutions. "If we don't look at innovation to improve what we do," Beckmann stated, "we will lose our competitiveness."

To implement its RFID solutions, Beckmann said, Vögele needed to conduct considerable training, simply to increase the RFID-related comfort level of its manufacturing workers in China, as well as its store employees in Slovenia. The firm found that workers at the Shanghai manufacturing site were leery of scanning RFID tags—in some cases, they did not speak English, and the company turned to interpreters at the University of Shanghai to train them. Vögele also translated its software into Chinese.

This kind of versatility was part of what made the implementation successful, Beckmann said. "We tried to predefine the process the way we wanted it, then amended it and sometimes had to find unusual solutions," he added, in reference to the training and language translations. All information related to RFID reads was then stored on Vögele's Web-based central enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.

As a result of the RFID system, the company was able to reduce labor involved in stock counting by 50 percent. According to Beckmann, Checkpoint Systems provided passive EPC Gen 2 RFID tags and interrogator antennas, and was a business partner on the project. And KooBra Software provided software enabling Vögele to collect and interpret data provided by the interrogators.

At the stores in Slovenia (the only stores, to date, with the system in place), Charles Vögele installed Checkpoint's RFID readers on shelves (to track which items are available in the store front), as well as in fitting room (to monitor how many items customers bring in with them, and how many are purchased). The KooBra software allowed Vögele to create what the company called a heat map (a map of the store front, with icons displaying where customers travel in the building), thus allowing the store to quantify the differences in shopping behavior between males and females. In this case, employees provided consumers with an active RFID tag, then watched their movements throughout the store. "In this way," Beckmann explained, "we were able to find out what part of the store is hotter. We know where people bought products, and where they didn't."

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