Essentiel Antwerp Prepares 40-Store RFID Deployment

The fashion brand plans to implement the system across the majority of its locations using a self-deployment methodology from Nedap that helps store managers and associates train themselves and their co-workers on its use.
Published: November 13, 2019

Belgian fashion design and retail company Essentiel Antwerp is deploying an RFID system at 40 of its stores that provides the firm with greater visibility into its stock counts, thereby improving the availability of its products in stores, and also enabling omnichannel sales. The solution consists of Nedap‘s !D Cloud software and handheld UHF RFID tag readers.

Essentiel Antwerp operates 55 stores across Western and Central Europe, most of which will be RFID-enabled, meaning the stores will be equipped with handheld RFID readers and connect to Nedap’s !D Cloud solution. Essentiel Antwerp, launched by a young couple in 1999, originally sold T-shirts consisting of four styles in 20 colors from their apartment. According to the company, the T-shirts “sold like hot cakes,” and it quickly expanded to other products sold in signature Essentiel stores across Europe.

The firm had tested various RFID solutions to gain inventory visibility, but found in the Nedap solution “a satisfactory system which will now be rolled out across the company,” says Jan-Jakop Drabbe, Essentiel Antwerp’s RFID project manager. “After a rapid pilot in the coming months, we expect full rollout before mid-2020.” The company selected the Nedap solution based on its flexibility as a software-as-a-service model, ensuring a low cost of entry, while the stores could expand the use of the technology over time.

“Essentiel Antwerp was looking for a scalable solution to deploy on a global scale, as they have a lot of stores in different countries,” recalls Bruno Bakker, Nedap Retail Benelux’s business developer for RFID. “They knew cloud-based was the way to go,” he says, and Essentiel Antwerp was looking for a solution that could be deployed quickly. “That is why they chose Nedap, as this allows for self-deployment on a global scale.”

In addition to improved inventory visibility, the company says it expects to consolidate various inventories—such as wholesale, e-commerce and retail in stores—into one virtual inventory, allowing optimal accessibility for staff members and customers. The company could then launch its omnichannel sales.

Using Nedap’s self-deployment methodology will allow the brand to deploy the system quickly across several dozen stores, Essentiel Antwerp reports. This process employs a train-the-trainer concept, Bakker says. First, Nedap offers professional services to prepare the designated trainers (sales associates and managers from the stores) to roll out the solution at each site. Essentiel Antwerp will then be able to proceed with deploying the system.

In the final phase of the deployment, the tags are expected to be applied at the point of manufacture. The tags will be provided by Essentiel’s existing label provider. When the system goes live, each product will have a printed RFID tag linked to a particular product’s stock-keeping unit (SKU) in the MS Navision ERP system and stored in the !D Cloud software. Initially, the tags will not be read until the product arrives at the RFID-enabled stores. But in the future, Drabbe says, the tags could be interrogated at the distribution center to provide greater visibility into the supply chain.

On a weekly basis, a sales associate carries the reader around the store to capture each item’s RFID tag ID. The device then forwards that data to !D Cloud via a Wi-Fi or cellular connection. The tag ID read count is compared against the known inventory, available in the ERP system, and any goods discovered to be missing can automatically be ordered for replenishment.

Once the deployment has gone live, Drabbe says, all garments at the 40 participating stores will be tagged, and in the long run, tags will be affixed to in-store accessories as well. In the future, the software will be used for Web-based order fulfillment. For instance, if an online customer selects and purchases an item, the software will identify the closest product to him or her, as well as forward automated instructions to the store to either ship that product to the customer or make it available for pickup.

Tagged items could also include assets such as office machinery, Drabbe notes, and assets could be automatically accounted for with the use of handheld readers at stores or offices. “RFID offers additional applications, both in the merchandise and in in-house equipment,” he states, such as IT equipment and assets used in stores. Primarily though, the system will allow Essentiel Antwerp to continue growing its product base, he says, and to serve customers even as they turn to more omnichannel purchases.

“Further growth of the Essentiel Antwerp organization requires a better ability to track and trace our inventory and act quickly on trends, shortages and inventory loss,” Drabbe states. The RFID-based system, he adds, will help the company do so.