Retail Reload, Mainetti Partner on Omnichannel and Big-Data Solutions

The two companies are offering retailers a solution that tracks data about goods in stores beyond inventory management, either with QR codes or using handheld or fixed RFID readers.
Published: September 18, 2019

France- and U.S.-based RFID solutions provider Retail Reload has partnered with label technology company Mainetti to offer retailers an omnichannel solution that it says is intended to take radio frequency identification beyond inventory management. The company serves a worldwide audience and has had an office in Los Angeles to serve the North American market for approximately 18 months.

The solution, using Retail Reload’s cloud-based software and Mainetti’s customized price labels with RFID and QR codes, provides marketing and sourcing data based on RFID tag reads in stores, while also tracking inventory levels. Several brands are already using Retail Reload’s technology to enable full omnichannel mode sales, the company reports. Several retail companies are presently in discussions with Retail Reload about deploying the technology with Mainetti labels, to better understand how their customers (shoppers) are interacting with their products in stores, says Yves Curtat, Retail Reload’s CEO and founder.

Yves Curtat

Retailers currently face what Curtat calls “a black hole in the store,” meaning management has no clear idea about where products are located, if they are being tried on or whether customers actually like them. That makes omnichannel sales challenging, he says, since retailers may not know if a product at a store is actually available for online sales or if it is being tried on, for instance. This is especially difficult when inventory levels are kept at very low levels, he says, such as two or fewer of each stock-keeping unit (SKU). They also have no information indicating whether customers are engaging with those products, or whether they tend to buy them after trying them on.

Paul Withers

Retail Reload was launched approximately three years ago to provide a solution to that problem, as well as to help retailers understand such issues as sourcing in order to identify which suppliers are delivering goods that customers are actually buying. The company enlisted Mainetti to provide a high-quality and aesthetically pleasing tag—one manufactured around the world—as part of its solution, explains Paul Withers, Mainetti Group’s global head of packaging,

One barrier to widescale RFID deployments in retail, Curtat says, is a shortage of software solutions for omnichannel sales. Traditional software solutions focus on stock accuracy. “Many solution providers offer a system they say is omnichannel-ready, when in reality it isn’t actually ready,” Withers explains. The offer from Retail Reload and Mainetti is intended not only to improve stock accuracy but also drive other benefits, the companies explain.

Retail Reload’s software captures data related to the movements of goods between sites such as stores and a DC, and within a store, then provides analytics and other information to help retailers understand what is taking place with their goods. For instance, a company could capture data about when a specific item enters a fitting room, which other items are being brought into that fitting room with it and whether any subsequent sales occur. The solution, Curtat explains, “turns stores into mini DCs to provide ‘click and collect’ availability.”

The data can be updated in the software in real time so as to prevent an item from being listed as for sale online while it is being tried on in-store. It can also detect when that product is sold and provide data related to a particular consumer if he or she is using a loyalty program, by identifying which items that person purchased and which he or she chose not to buy after trying them on. That information can be used for targeted marketing, Withers says, and improves the customer experience—both in-store and online—as well as helping management understand how well different products perform.

A retailer would first select Mainetti labels with built-in EPC UHF RFID tags. Maintetti provides RFID tags with QR codes printed on them for customers who aren’t using RFID readers. The retailer would then purchase the hardware it requires. Retail Reload is hardware-agnostic, Curtat says, and can work with fixed or handheld readers from various vendors, or with 3D barcode scans. The software automatically integrates with a user’s SAP management system. In that way, the solution can access data about the inventory available onsite at a store, as well as point-of-sale information.

If a retailer has very busy fitting rooms, it may wish to install a fixed RFID reader, Curtat says, while a smaller store might opt for a handheld RFID reader or use QR code scanning with a mobile phone. In any of these cases, the system could detect when a specific item was taken into a dressing room, either when a sales associate scanned or read the tag with a handheld device as a customer brought the garment into that room, or automatically via a fixed RFID reader. If the clothing were then purchased, that data would also be captured by the Retail Reload software, and the garment could then be removed for online sales purposes until replenishment could take place. The replenishment order can be placed automatically.

The historic data can help the retailer do much more, however. For instance, the system knows which supplier is providing products that are being purchased, as well as what goods are being tried on and not purchased, which could signify a problem. By then removing that product from stores and online sales channels, the retailer can prevent the costs resulting from returned goods. “The genuine real-time stock intelligence enables you to do many things the traditional RFID software doesn’t concentrate on,” Withers states.

Traditionally, Mainetti provides tickets and labels for retailers. “We have always tried to find solutions to retailers’ problems,” Withers says. The firm moved into RFID-enabled labels in 2017 when it acquired a share of Japanese RFID tag provider Fast Value Global. The company already has customers using its labels for a variety of applications for which specific form factors are required.

“We offer RFID solutions on a number of levels,” Withers says. “Some customers are only interested in the consumables [tags], while we have others who have been interested in a more complete solution.” While Mainetti had offered a full solution to its customers, the partnership with Retail Reload provides greater capability, Withers explains. Mainetti also makes tags that can serve as both inventory-management and anti-theft solutions, in the form of a hard tag utilizing electronic article surveillance (EAS) functionality and RFID.

“Until the investment in Retail Reload,” Withers says, “our solution was focused on stock accuracy and tracking.” He recalls a conversation with one U.K. retailer (which has asked to remain unnamed) that had become fed up with RFID solutions because they didn’t meet its specific needs. “He wanted a product that could be developed” specifically for his use case, Withers adds, but RFID tag companies “kept pushing the catalog across the desk, saying, ‘You can have anything in the catalog.’ He was expressing his frustration, so we developed the product they needed, and a few months later they were trialing it in the stores.”

Curtat started building RFID-based software about six years ago, then founded Retail Reload to sell that solution two years ago. His aim was to offer self-service checkouts, fitting room management and other in-store features using RFID- or QR code-based data. “My proposal was to move beyond the basic expectations of retailers,” he says. “The big thing for the RFID market is they’ve tried RFID, they’ve run pilots, and ultimately they’ve figured out the ROI was not strong enough to justify an investment in the technology.”

Two topics that Retail Reload now wants to address, Curtat says, are omnichannel conversion and big data related to items for sale in stores. The company’s software is in use by French intimate apparel company Undiz at 180 of its stores, as well as at 687 Etam locations, 50 of eyewear retailer Lunette Pour Tous‘ sites and 525 shops owned by Jennyfer. Other pilots are presently under way with companies that have also asked not to be named, he adds. “BOPIS [buy online, pick up in store] is very demanding,” Curtat states. “Retailers have to be very accurate.”

This year, Retail Reload has been selected and enrolled in a SAP startup innovation program known as SAP io, which makes the company’s software an approved platform that requires a single point of integration for all SAP data-flow. That makes integration straightforward for retailers’ CTOs, Curtat explains.

The system can be introduced in a phased approach, Curtat adds, since stores can simply scan QR codes or use a few handheld readers, depending on the volume of goods and transactions at fitting rooms or points of sale. They can deploy fixed readers or expand their systems as needed. “That way, they keep investment costs down,” Withers says. Even if every garment has a Mainetti RFID label on it, each also includes a QR code.

For retailers, Withers states, “The availability of a variety of data that typical software doesn’t provide is extremely exciting,” He expects the partnership to bring RFID to companies that have not previously chosen to deploy the technology.