Belgian Clothing Retailer JBC Using RFID at 144 Stores

By Claire Swedberg

Checkpoint RFID tags, readers and middleware enable the retailer to track when goods arrive at and leave its distribution center, as well as check inventory on store shelves.

Belgian clothing retailer JBC has taken a large-scale radio frequency identification system live across all 144 of its stores throughout Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany. The deployment involves the use of EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags to track garments at the point of manufacture, in the distribution center and on store shelves. In April 2016, the retailer expects to use the RFID solution to track purchases at the point of sale (POS).

With the RFID technology, provided by Checkpoint Systems, JBC says it now has visibility into the full supply chain for the more than 17 million pieces of apparel it sells annually, from 100 different suppliers, including 1.5 million hanging garments and 15.5 million flat-packed items.

Each piece of merchandise sold at JBC's stores is tagged with a Checkpoint Systems RFID label.

JBC, headquartered in Houthalen-Helchteren, Belgium, where it employs 270 people, is among the country's primary retailers for clothing. The firm spent considerable time investigating RFID technology and opted "to maximize the benefits," says Fred Tielens, JBC's logistics manager, by rolling out the solution throughout the entire supply chain, from source to store. It dubs the initiative the "Source to Store/Shopper Project."

The technology was piloted in 2013 at two stores. At that time, the company was able to learn how the technology worked, with a focus on the store's use cases, inventory tracking and point-of-sale.

"The primary objective was to save time in the stores by reducing handling costs," Tielens explains. The company sought not only to reduce the amount of labor its staff spent scanning bar codes on labels to conduct inventory checks, but also to improve its stock accuracy. In that way, he says, sales associates would spend less time searching for garments and instead focus on helping shoppers.

Once the solution was agreed upon, the company began installing Checkpoint readers in February 2015, as well as software to manage the collected read data. The installation was completed in June.

JBC utilizes Checkpoint's Checknet software platform to order RFID tags. Approximately 90 percent of the tags used are specialized labels sewn into garments, while the remaining labels are affixed to garment hangtags. The company is using four different Checkpoint RFID labels: Whirl, Champion, High-Kick and Butterfly.

Suppliers sew or attach a tag to each product, and the tag's unique ID number is then stored for that garment along with its stock-keeping unit (SKU). The tag is not read until it arrives at the distribution center in Houthalen-Helchteren. At that point, the tagged items pass through one of six Checkpoint RFID tunnel readers located onsite. The interrogator captures each tag's ID number and forwards that information to the Checkpoint OAT Enterprise software on JBC's database, updating the item as having been received. The same process occurs when the goods are shipped to the store, and software stores data related to which items are then shipped to which location.

JBC's Fred Tielens

Goods are received at the store and are placed on shelves as needed. Employees do not read the tags as the goods arrive at the store, Tielens says, though in the future, the company plans to have its staff read the tags on incoming goods using a Nordic ID Merlin Cross Dipole handheld reader, once such a process is put into place. Workers do, however, use the handheld to perform inventory counts of merchandise on store shelves.

Historically, personnel at each store conducted inventory checks once a year. Now, with the technology in place, inventories will be taken much more often, Tielens says. "We will increase the rhythm slowly," he states, "but we are not ready yet for weekly cycle counts."

The tags are again read at the point of sale via Checkpoint Counterpoint iD Dual (CpiD-Dual) POS device that serves as both an RF electronic article surveillance (EAS) tag deactivator and an RFID reader. Customers simply place the garments they wish to purchase on the counter. The CpiD-Dual device captures the items' ID numbers and forwards that data to the OAT Enterprise software. JBC is still in the process of integrating each CpiD-Dual and the OAT software with its POS system. The retailer expects to complete that integration work in April 2016, at which point the OAT software will update the POS software to indicate that an item was sold.

The RFID system is proving to save the staff time, Tielens reports, though he notes that the retailer has not measured the cost savings or sales boosts that might be related to better-stocked shelves. "There is definitely an ROI based on a number of improved processes," he states. "I am sure we will see more benefits in the future as we familiarize ourselves with the technology."

The system is also expected to enable online retailing for JBC, by providing the firm with data regarding which goods are onsite at each store—and by allowing JBC to ship those items to online customers from the nearest location.