G-Star RAW Store Finds Many Uses for RFID

By Claire Swedberg

The technology tracks the locations of goods in real time, and is used for inventory, point-of-sale and electronic article surveillance applications, as well as for a customer-facing touchscreen.

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This month, Denimwall Inc. launched a radio frequency identification solution at the G-Star RAW clothing store that it owns and operates in New York City’s Union Square, to do everything from tracking inventory, managing sales transactions and providing electronic article surveillance (EAS) to letting shoppers view product information on a touchscreen. The solution is provided by a team of vendors led by RIoT Insight, a new RFID solutions firm that aims to bring all-inclusive RFID systems to small and midsize fashion retailers.

G-Star RAW operates 400 stores worldwide, and Denimwall owns and operates a total of seven G-Star RAW stores on a franchise basis. The RFID solution deployed at Denimwall’s Union Square store was taken live about two weeks ago for the inventory-tracking, point-of-sale (POS) and EAS applications, while the customer-facing touchscreen system for shoppers went live this week. Tours of the store’s RFID deployments will be available during the National Retail Federation‘s Big Show event, being held next week. Requests to take such a tour can be made at Impinj‘s booth (#1570).

A total of seven xArray readers were installed on the ceiling above the store’s 2,000-square-foot sales floor.

The solution includes Impinj’s xArray readers mounted on the ceilings, as well as ItemSense software that filters read data and provides location specifics for tags. Austrian software company Enso Detego provides in-store analytics software, while RIoT Insight supplied systems integration and Android and iOS mobile apps, as well as software that personnel can use for such features as finding items, live replenishment notifications, loss-prevention alerts and inventory clarifications. The touchscreen solution for customers is provided by InMotion.

Denimwall began offering omnichannel sales for its customers approximately six months ago, according to Craig Leonard, Denimwall’s CEO. Tracking inventory became critical, he says, since the company required highly accurate inventory counts to ensure that replenishment kept products available for purchase, both for customers who physically shopped at the stores, and for online shoppers who might purchase goods that would be shipped from those locations.

Deninwall’s Craig Leonard

Leonard says he had considered using RFID, but hadn’t felt that the technology would be feasible for his midsize store. “I knew there were big-box people using it,” he recalls. “I was interested in what could be done for a medium-sized business.” Leonard then spoke with Darren Williams, RIoT’s founder and CEO, and the former COO of Retail Pro, who had a background in RFID technology and an interest in an all-inclusive solution featuring real-time location system (RTLS) functionality and RFID readers that most retailers would find affordable and easy to install and use. He says he began meeting with technology providers before settling on a core group that could provide a complete solution.

The resulting system is intended to track inventory both in the back room and on the sales floor in real time, as well as enable purchasing and identify when goods leave the store. The solution also allows sales associates to use their own smartphones to locate goods and facilitate routine merchandising tasks, such as replenishment and loss prevention.

The solution consists of 12 xArray readers—seven on the 2,000-square-foot sales floor and five in the 1,500-square-foot stockroom.

Impinj helped RIoT determine how the readers and software could be used in the store, according to Larry Arnstein, Impinj’s business development VP. The number of readers installed at Denimwall might be somewhat more than needed for a typical store space of its size, Arnstein says. “We were being conservative,” he explains, by ensuring full coverage with a large number of readers. The 100-plus-year-old building posed multiple challenges for RF transmission, Williams adds, such as nooks and crannies that would require RF coverage.

The ItemSense software enables the system to break the areas into zones in which tags are being read, Arnstein says. About 2 percent or less may not be readable, and the software displays the list of items that cannot be accounted for as well. At the end of the day, Leonard says, employees spend approximately 10 minutes locating missing items by walking around the store with a handheld reader. The store is using several models of handhelds—an ASReader device that attaches to an Apple iPhone or iPod touch, Nordic ID‘s Merlin and a Bluetooth reader from Technology Solutions UK Ltd. (TSL)—and by “fluffing” inventory (physically shuffling, lifting or moving the garments).

Shoppers can use a 55-inch touchscreen with a built-in Impinj RFID reader to capture an item’s tag ID number, causing InMotion’s Ui7 software platform to display related product information, such as complementary shoes, shirts and belts.

Enso Detego, which specializes in software solutions for the fashion apparel market, provided the software that analyzes the location data and presents it to the store on dashboards, or via RIoT’s app. “With this, they [store employees] have visibility at the item level in real time,” says Uwe Hennig, Detego’s CEO, and can use data to prompt other actions, such as replenishing inventory.

RIot’s Darren Williams

When goods are received, Leonard says, workers apply an RFID tag to each item and use a Keonn AdvanStation RFID encoding station to scan that product’s bar code and encode its tag. After that, the overhead readers automatically track the tagged items.

“One of the important aspects of this solution is simple in-store encoding, until G-STAR begins tagging upstream,” Williams says. It is not necessary to completely outsource tagging, he notes.

Under the sales counter, RIoT installed a Nordic ID Sampo reader for interrogating the tags of goods being purchased. A customer places the products on the counter, and the reader captures the tag IDs. The employee then presses a prompt on the touchscreen, thereby linking those tag IDs to the purchase, and updating the inventory- and replenishment-based data.

This week, the store also began offering customers the opportunity to interact with a touchscreen to learn more about key items from its Denim Bar and determine what might go well with those garments. InMotion provided a 55-inch touchscreen with a built-in Impinj Speedway Revolution R420 RFID reader to capture a product’s tag ID and then display information specific to that category of item, using InMotion’s Ui7 software platform. For instance, if a customer holds a pair of jeans near the screen, the reader links that item’s tag to content displaying shoes, shirts or other items that might go well with those pants. “We built this solution with the intention to leverage it with other tools they already have in place,” says Frederick Bleckmann, InMotion’s founder and creative technologist.

InMotion’s Ui7 software manages the collected tag ID data, linking it to content stored on a dedicated InMotion computer onsite.

InMotion’s Frederick Bleckmann

The Denimwall installation is the first project using xArray readers that has gone public, Arnstein reports, though a number of other companies around the world are trialing or installing the xArray and ItemSense technology. “It’s clearly on everyone’s mind. There’s no retailer using handheld readers that isn’t thinking about this,” he says.

By the end of this week, staff members will be able to download RIoT’s app and then use an Android or iOS smartphone or tablet to view where any item is located, based on the read data being captured by the fixed readers, as well as use the other related features. Williams says the app is especially desirable to stores, since workers can use their personal devices to access data and capture a tag’s ID by pairing their devices with a handheld TSL reader via a Bluetooth connection. For instance, if a customer requests a product that person can’t find, the sales associate can simply open the app on his or her phone and view that item’s location on the sales floor or in the back room. “Stores can, of course, use their own mobile devices,” he states, “but many retailers—and especially employees—find the BYOD option very compelling.”

As goods leave the store, a reader captures the IDs of RFID tags on any items not purchased. The software then sends an alert to the app running on the devices of employees onsite, so that they can view what is being removed, as well as the area of the store from which it came. That data provides analytics, Leonard explains, enabling him to know where items are typically being taken from, as well as address any security weakness, such as moving products so that thieves cannot as easily grab them on the way out the door.

Detego’s back-end software provides inventory analytics and performance monitoring, allowing Denimwall to monitor store replenishment and shrinkage. In the stockroom, staff members can view that same data displayed on a screen.

Leonard says he is now considering expanding the solution to his six other G-Star RAW franchise stores, in order to extend the system’s benefits company-wide. However, he adds, no timeline has been established for these deployments.

Hennig predicts that this is just the beginning when it comes to the real-time location tracking of goods via fixed EPC ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) readers. This installation, he says, “will give a big push to the industry.” Hennig expects to see many more deployments of similar solutions underway during the next 12 to 18 months.