Retailer Rolls Out RFID Across 1,000 Stores This Year

The Foschini Group has committed to deploying RFID technology across its brands throughout South Africa and beyond, beginning with its Markham menswear brand, in order to bring inventory accuracy above 95 percent.
Published: July 26, 2019

South African fashion retailer The Foschini Group (TFG) has launched a UHF RFID solution across 500 stores throughout a four-month period for its Markham brands, with plans to apply RFID to its products company-wide. TFG’s goal is to bring its inventory accuracy to between 95 and 98 percent, thereby preventing out-of-stock events in stores, while enabling “buy online pick-up in store” (BOPIS) sales in the near future. The program was launched in February 2019, and the company expects to have the technology live at 1,000 stores by the end of this year.

Martin Kurc, TFG’s senior operations business process manager, and Michelle McCann, the company’s RFID project manager, presented their RFID technology strategy and experiences at RFID Journal LIVE! Retail at RetailX, held in Chicago in June 2019. The solution is provided by RIoT Insight. With the system in place, Kurc says, the company can count inventory at a 51,000-unit store within only a few hours, typically by a single employee, while the same process with barcode inventory-based counters took several days with a store’s full team pitching in.

The Foschini Group is a Cape Town-based company with 28,000 employees. It sells home and sporting goods, as well as jewelry and women’s and men’s fashion brands, throughout South Africa and globally. Altogether, the firm operates 4,000 stores with 28 brands, selling products in 32 countries and five continents, and there are 12 million loyalty rewards users in South Africa alone. One brand in TFG is the Markham chain of men’s clothing stores. Markham has a long history (the brand has been in existence for as long as Levi Strauss), but is currently focused on a modern, more digital approach to sales.

“Modern consumer behavior is changing, and we must innovate to keep up with the times,” Kurc told the LIVE! Retail audience. However, he said, whether selling goods online or at brick-and-mortar stores, “Inventory accuracy is the foundation. You can’t sell what you don’t have.” At each store, associates are tasked with counting inventory almost daily, which means their time is largely taken away from sales efforts. “Our biggest challenge,” he says, “is to move staff members from being stock counters to merchants.”

The company received a mandate to transform its focus to digital shopping. “RFID is part of the digital change that is transforming our business,” Kurc states. “We went forward, all guns blazing. If we make a commitment, we go for it.” In fact, he adds, the deployment for TFG brands may be one of the largest in-store RFID projects in the world, and also one of the fastest.

TFG has accomplished this fast-paced rollout with a focus on its primary goals, McCann says. “We felt inventory accuracy was our starting point,” she adds. To begin with, McCann explains, “We decided we wanted a pilot, but the focus was not to prove the technology or an ROI [return on investment].” Instead, the company wanted to use the pilot to identify RFID partners and develop a methodology and approach for a fast-track rollout. The pilot took place at six stores, with tags being read at those locations on a regular basis. Data was captured by the RioT Insights software, which interpreted that information and forwarded inventory data to the company’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.

The pilot planning began in March 2018, and the company kicked it off at six stores in April. In June it chose a label vendor, and in August it began tagging. By the end of September, the tagged products were arriving at the pilot stores. By February of this year, TFG began rolling out the technology to Markham stores and equipping store personnel with handheld readers.

The solution consists of sticker labels from Intelligent Label Solutions (ITL) with built-in UHF RFID Tageos inlays that are affixed to hangtags on the garments. These are being read by store associations using Zebra Technologies handhelds.

For the deployment, all goods are being tagged at the source, so as each product is made, a label (provided by ITL) is attached to a hangtag. The unique ID number encoded on that tag is linked to data about the product itself, including its stock-keeping unit (SKU). The tagged product is then shipped to the distribution center. Once the tagged item is received at the store, sales associates can read its tag to create an automated record of what is available onsite, enabling workers to easily count stock on a regular basis.

The focus is only on inventory management for now. “Other benefits are enticing,” McCann told attendees—smart mirrors, for instance—but TFG’s mantra, she said, has been “low complexity, high return.” The Markham brand was selected for the initial deployment, she said, its high replenishment rate posing an opportunity for more effective inventory management.

With the Markham products now being fully tagged at the source, the company is expanding the system to its sporting goods division, followed by multi-brand goods. The company plans to give each of its brands a three-month pilot before fully deploying the technology. It is also in the early planning stages for cosmetics and jewelry tracking. The next step may be to retrofit distribution centers to capture RFID data for logistics purposes. At one DC, a proof-of-concept will be under way, later this year, to read the tags of inbound stock arriving from suppliers. The tags can be read again as goods leave the center, providing an audit of product movement throughout the facility.

Since the system was taken live, TFG has found that stock accuracy has improved, and store teams have been freed to deliver more customer assistance, instead of counting stock. With this improved inventory accuracy, the company is now able to ensure appropriate replenishments as goods are sold. “Our ERP system drives our replenishment models,” McCann said, “and with RFID delivering stock accuracy in-store, we are automatically responding to the needs of the store as a result of accurate data.”

Sales performance received an unexpected lift based on the technology’s use as well, McCann said. “It opened our eyes to the potential of not spending a week on biannual stock takes,” she added, allowing the sales force to “focus on responding to the needs of our customers.” In the future, the stores’ point-of-sale system will be integrated with the RFID solution so that tag reads can be captured as goods are sold. The company intends to complete the rollout across all stores.