Dixons Carphone Group Simplifies Tracking of Phone, Tablet Repairs

By Claire Swedberg

Europe's largest mobile phone retailer and services company is using an RFID solution from TrackerPoint to manage work-in-process as it repairs thousands of devices and shares that data with customers.

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Dixons Carphone Group, said to be the largest mobile phone retailer and services company in Europe, is employing radio frequency identification technology at its logistics center in the West Midlands, England, to manage repairs of its customers’ smartphones.

The company’s CPW Logistics Centre processes thousands of mobile phones and tablets daily, moving them through all types of repairs, including screen replacements and other maintenance issues that users experience. Tracking those devices is a mammoth job, but that task became much easier three months ago, thanks to an RFID system provided by U.K. RFID technology firm TrackerPoint. The solution includes passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags affixed to bins in which malfunctioning phones are stored until repairs are completed. RFID readers are installed throughout the facility to track work-in-progress and ensure that no handset ever ends up missing. TrackerPoint’s software collects and interprets read data, and Dixons Carphone is then able to share that information not only among its own staff, but also with customers.

TrackerPoint’s Georgina Evans

In August of this year, Dixons Carphone Group was formed by the merger of Dixons Retail (which operated a number of electronics retail stores, including the PC World and Currys chains) with Carphone Warehouse Group (which operated the Carphone Warehouse stores, as well as the CPW Logistics Centre). When customers experience problems with their phones or tablets purchased at any of Dixons Carphone’s stores, they typically go to the stores where those items were purchased, or to any of 800 Carphone Warehouse outlets, which forward any devices they are unable to fix in-house to the CPW Logistics Centre for repair.

Dixons Carphone recently introduced a new service to its customers that offers a guaranteed return date for each repair job, says Parmjit Kumar, the CPW Logistics Centre’s quality-assurance manager. “RFID has helped us ensure we achieve this by automatically tracking each job throughout our facility,” he states.

Prior to adopting the TrackerPoint solution he says, Carphone Warehouse had investigated a variety of automated tracking systems from several companies. The firm chose a solution from TrackerPoint, he adds, “due to their independence, high level of RFID project experience and flexibility when discussing our requirements.”

The company needed a solution that could track thousands of bins as they, and the devices stored within, move through a complex system in which a variety of services can be provided. According to Kumar, it required “automatic and real-time tracking of our repair jobs to ensure they can be dispatched back to their owner at the time promised.”

The CPW Logistics Centre receives hundreds of handheld devices, including iPhones and other Apple devices, as well as Samsung and Nokia products. It is, in fact, the largest in-house mobile phone and tablet repair facility in the United Kingdom. Each device, once received, is placed within a bin and is then moved through the appropriate stations to accomplish the repair or other service required, before being shipped back to the customer. The bins, which are designed to protect the devices from exposure to electrostatic discharge (ESD), come in a variety of sizes to accommodate the various items in need of repair. Until the RFID system was deployed, tracking the bins and the devices they contained was managed largely manually. With RFID, the company reports, that has all changed.

Each bin’s RFID tag is encoded with a unique ID number, explains Georgina Evans, TrackerPoint’s account manager, which TrackerPoint’s software links to data about the device stored in that bin, as well as the customer’s shipping address. The bin is then routed to the proper station for servicing. “The tag assembly is, to our own design, extensively tested to ensure suitability within this type of environment,” Evans says.

To track the locations and movements of those bins and the products they contain, Dixons installed Feig Electronics and Nordic ID ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID readers at a variety of stations throughout its facility. As a phone or tablet moves through the repair process, the readers capture the unique ID encoded to its bin’s tag and forward that information to Dixons’ back-end server, which hosts the TrackerPoint TPLink software to identify the bin, the product associated with it and its location, based on the RFID reader that interrogated the tag. That data is then displayed in the TrackerPoint TPView software on a map of the facility, so that management can view each item’s location in real time, based on the last time at which it was read. In that way, if managers are searching for a specific item—perhaps to expedite the repair process or to learn its status—they can simply locate it on the map.

In addition, the data stored in the software can be shared with the store that sent the device to the center for repair, as well as with the customer who owns that item. Consumers can access that information via Dixons Carphone’s Repair Tracker website. An individual can simply enter his or her user name and postcode, along with the job number assigned to that person’s device when it was submitted for repair. The customer can then view the status of that item and learn when it is projected to be ready for collection at the store.

“Everything has lived up to expectations, and we’ve been very impressed at the way the project was implemented,” Kumar says. “We have reduced operational turnaround time, and no losses have been made since the launch of the project.” The company plans to extend the RFID system’s use to other areas of Dixons Carphone’s business as well, he adds, though he did not provide specifics.