Learning from Marks & Spencer

The retailer, which has been using RFID in its operations for 15 years, will share some of its learnings at this year's RFID Journal LIVE! Europe event.
Published: October 7, 2019

RFID Journal published its first article about Marks & Spencer’s use of passive UHF radio frequency identification technology in 2004 (see Marks & Spencer Expands RFID Trial). Back then, M&S was just tagging men’s suits. UHF RFID was in its infancy, but the retailer had earlier tracked food trays with passive HF technology and saw potential benefits for deploying passive UHF to manage suits, casuals and separates.

With 15 years’ experience, the company clearly has since learned a lot about the right and wrong ways to utilize RFID in retail (see Marks & Spencer to Expand RFID Item Tagging, Marks & Spencer RFID Expansion Tackles Privacy Issue, Marks & Spencer Leads the Way and Marks & Spencer Embraces Change). That’s why I am pleased that Richard Jenkins, M&S’s head of loss prevention, security and RFID, and Zarah Adato, the retailer’s project manager for RFID strategic development, have both agreed to speak at RFID Journal LIVE! Europe 2019, which will take place on Nov. 13 in London, with RFID Professional Institute certification training to be offered on Nov. 12.

Richard has spoken at several RFID Journal events in the past. He is extremely eloquent and is always willing to share important insights. At one event, he showed a slide with a visual depiction of M&S’s supply chain and revealed that his team had identified some 23 points throughout its operations at which RFID would deliver benefits.

More importantly, Richard recommended not building the business case for funding for an RFID project. The return on investment would likely be huge, he explained, and the board would be skeptical and likely reject funding. He recommended building the business case on improving shelf availability at stores, which leads to more sales at full or near-full price. That was excellent advice, in my view.

I once asked Richard why he shares his insights at events, and his answer shows the sophistication M&S brings to its RFID implementation. Coming to events, he told me, allows him to share the issues he sees with the solution provider community, so that they can develop products to address those problems. Richard also shares his insights because if he is coming to learn from what others are doing, it makes sense for him to talk about his experiences as well. Of course, he is not sharing the most important things M&S is doing—things that drive competitive advantage—but what he can share is extremely valuable for those starting RFID projects, both in retail and in other sectors.

Some companies are cutting back on their travel budgets, but attending an event and learning something that could save your firm money or help you avoid costly mistakes is smart business. I hope to see you at this year’s LIVE! Europe conference, as I’m confident you would find it valuable, thanks to Richard Jenkins and other speakers.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal.