Fashion Retailer Leverages Virtual Shielding to Overcome Stray RFID Reads

Superdry has launched a solution from Nedap that employs the technology company's virtual shielding to prevent spill-over tag reads that had been affecting read accuracy in the retailer's previous solution.
Published: August 6, 2019

Throughout the past two years, U.K. clothing company Superdry has taken a strategic approach to its RFID technology deployment, ensuring that the system achieved the effectiveness it needed at several dozen stores before deploying the technology across all of its sites. As a result, the company has resolved early problems related to stray tag reads and is now moving to the next phase: deploying UHF RFID technology at 200 of its worldwide stores this year.

The company first investigated RFID technology a few years ago in an effort to improve its inventory accuracy, then deployed the system across 37 stores (see story Superdry Rolls Out RFID Across Some U.K., All U.S. Stores). The solution is now deployed across all of its U.K. locations. In 2018, it signed up for Nedap‘s !D Cloud solution, which modifies how the RFID technology is used.

Superdry’s fashion brand focuses on contemporary styles, with a vintage Americana- and Japanese-inspired graphics focus blended with British style. It has 515 branded locations across 46 countries and operates from 21 websites. Like other retailers and brands, the company sought to improve its inventory accuracy—not only to ensure goods were on the shelf at its stores, but so that they could be ordered online and shipped to customers from the nearest location.

Once it implemented the first version of its RFID system, however, Superdry found that the technology had shortcomings. When sales associates read RFID tags at store sites, unwanted stray reads were being captured—from the stock rooms, for instance. To solve this problem, the firm applied shielding to help prevent those stray reads, and to thereby better identify when tagged items were moved from a stock room to the sales floor.

Even with the metallic paint-based shielding in place, though, stray reads still made the system unreliable. The staff dialed down the power of their handheld RFID readers, which reduced the incidence of unwanted reads, but with decreased read power, associates had to be very close to the tags in order to read them, and that slowed the inventory-counting process to about two and a half hours per store.

“Initially, shielding was a big challenge for the Superdry stores,” says Nick Markwell, Nedap’s business lead for !D Cloud UK. “Without doing this, they couldn’t realize the full benefits of RFID.” Although the system had been rolled out at 37 stores, adds James Eastwood, Superdry’s implementation manager, the company decided to pause the full rollout “to reflect on the available solutions in the marketplace.”

The company’s RFID team needed to ensure that it had chosen the appropriate long-term path, Eastwood recalls. Based on the shortcomings it had previously experienced with its RFID system, the firm conducted a full request for proposals, then selected Nedap as its long-term partner. The new solution relies on Nedap’s !D Cloud software, while employing the same Zebra Technologies RFD 8500 handheld readers that stores had used previously to capture tag reads. The company is also employing Avery Dennison printers at its distribution centers to label any untagged goods as they are received from suppliers.

Nick Markwell

“The initial attraction with Nedap was their Virtual Shielding solution,” Eastwood recalls. The foil lining and metallic painting options for shielding between the stock room and the sales floor was expensive and disruptive to stores, he says, and was not particularly effective. With Virtual Shielding, the physical shields are no longer necessary.

Virtual Shielding is a feature within !D Cloud that uses RFID read data to determine the sub-location within a store from which the tag response is received by the reader. The software can then determine where the tag is located as it is being read, and thereby eliminate the confusion of stock room tags being read by a reader in the store front, for instance.

James Eastwood

“The industry has long denied the feasibility of reliably determining individual tag locations without physical shielding,” Markwell says. “However, Nedap has cracked the code on this. This significantly increases the ROI of RFID projects, making RFID financially feasible for more retailers.” With Nedap’s Virtual Shielding, Eastwood says, the store is able to accomplish inventory counts within approximately 25 minutes, whereas this had previously taken several hours to complete. The !D Cloud software is designed for use by store personnel for all in-store processes, such as stock counts and identifying which items need to be replenished from the stock room.

Staff members can access data using the !D Cloud app on the handheld device to view, for example, a list of which products need to be moved from the stock room to the sales floor. They can then use the app to view the locations of products and their availability within the store, both for a specific stock-keeping unit and for related products, such as those in the same size but in different colors. In addition, Markwell says, if a particular product is not available at the store, !D Cloud can help identify which nearby locations have stock of the product available.

For management, !D Cloud provides a company- or region-wide overview of inventory and sales in real time, enabling better decision making related to inventory at each location. The software employs GS1-standard Electronic Product Code Information Services (EPCIS) to store all read transactions.

“RFID delivers store inventory accuracy, which allows us to maintain effective replenishment,” Eastwood says, while also serving as a foundation for future initiatives that require accurate inventory sounds, such as “click and collect” from store or fulfilment from store. “The other big benefit is ensuring availability of product on the sales floor to maximize sales.” In the future, he says, “We are also looking to use RFID throughout the supply chain to track product across the whole journey.” This will allow the company to make decisions regarding inventory management earlier. The collected data, he says, “will offer critical insight to manage product in the most effective way.”

By the time Superdry approached Nedap, Markwell recalls, the firm already had a very good understanding of RFID and how the technology could be used within its business. “As such, our team needed to get up to speed with the business very quickly,” he states. “It was important to make sure that we were on the same page and working together toward the same goal.” Superdry, he says, is a fast-paced business with a clear roadmap of what it wants to do with RFID, now and in the future. Therefore, Nedap kept its own focus on delivering a successful and fast rollout, as well as on maximizing the investment already made in RFID.

“Strategic partnerships with customers like Superdry help us to deliver the immediate benefits of RFID, but also push us to develop our !D Cloud solution for the future as well,” Markwell says. Having a strategic roadmap, he says, “means we have a clear direction in what we are trying to achieve.”

The rollout is expected to be completed in October of this year across all of Superdry’s stores around the globe, with initial deployments taking place in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States. “We are still committed to the original plan to deploy RFID to our full store estate during 2019,” Eastwood reports.