South African Safari Retailer Boosts Stock Accuracy With RFID

The solution, provided by Milestone Integrated Systems and using Keonn technology, enables the company's stores to track inventory via RFID paper labels and hard tags as goods move around the sales floor, as well as when they are purchased and removed from the premises.
Published: February 5, 2019

A South African retailer that sells safari-themed clothing, accessories and firearms has reduced its labor costs and improved inventory accuracy thanks to an RFID-based inventory-management system, and has also reduced shrinkage with payment and loss-prevention automation. The solution has been deployed at all five of its stores. The complete EPC UHF RFID-based system was provided by systems integrator Milestone Integrated Systems, using RFID technology from Keonn Technologies. The retailer has asked to remain unnamed.

The retailer sells a wide variety of products aimed at individuals who go on South African safaris. Its products are often transferred from one branch to another in order to prevent out-of-stocks, and to fulfill omnichannel orders. Due to the wide variety of stock-keeping units and high volume of product sales, the company’s supply chain can be quite complex, while needing to be efficient so the firm can meet orders quickly.

To ensure that it properly tracks its inventory at each store, the retailer has previously relied on periodic bar-code scans of products. In the past, the company has tried outsourcing its stock counts so that it could maintain an up-to-date inventory count and enable products to be quickly located and made available at all of its stores. However, that solution proved to be too expensive and the data was not fully up to date. Therefore, says Neels Lourens, Milestone’s managing director, the firm began seeking a technology-based solution.

Milestone, founded in 1996, is headquartered in Pretoria, South Africa. For 22 years, the company has been providing electronic article surveillance (EAS)-based anti-shoplifting and open-display security systems, as well as people-counting and RFID-based solutions for the retail markets of Sub Sahara Southern Africa. The retailer began working with Milestone early last year and launched a trial at one store from February to May. Based on the pilot’s results, the firm opted to roll out the system to all four of its locations. It then opened another store in November 2018, with the RFID system fully deployed at that site.

The solution consists of Keonn’s RFID systems for retail stores, all connected to their cloud-based AdvanCloud software platform. Each of the five stores is equipped with a combination of AdvanStation devices for encoding hard tags, AdvanPrint units for printing and encoding paper labels, AdvanScan handheld readers, AdvanPay-160 point-of-sale RFID readers, AdvanSafe loss-prevention readers at exits, and an AdvanGuard loss-prevention alarming system. The stores have also been provided with sCloud software, according to Ferran Selva, Keonn’s service manager and project manager.

The retailer sells products from multiple brands, and those items arrive at stores without RFID tags attached. Sales associates must thus print paper tags or encode hard tags for all goods as they are received—primarily printable adhesive RFID tags measuring 44 centimeters by 19 centimeters (17.3 inches by 7.5 inches), as well as RFID hard tags for some clothing and non-clothing hardware products. Once the tags are applied, bar-code-based data about each product and its unique RFID number is linked.

Whether goods are on display on the sales floor or stored in the back room, staff members can capture their location via regular RFID tag reads, simply by walking through the area with a handheld reader. In the event of exceptions, the device can also be used to encode single tags. When sales personnel conduct inventory counts, an app on the unit compares the collected data against predetermined ideal stock levels and displays any discrepancies. The app can also highlight items that have been requested for transfers to other stores.

Because the system required the tagging of all products, the store opted to further leverage the technology for the purpose of payments and loss prevention. Therefore, it has adopted RFID-based pay points, as well as alarms that alert store security if a tagged but un-purchased item is being removed from the store.

The AdvanPay system is used at the point of sale. The tag of each item being purchased is interrogated, and the software updates the products as sold (hard tags are removed). When a shopper walks through the exit, the AdvanSafe reader captures all tag ID numbers and compares the data against purchases. Another device, the AdvanGuard reader, serves as the alarm for the loss-prevention system and sends notifications to the sCloud app on the mobile device of the store’s security guard.

In addition to tracking which goods are onsite, as well as which have been purchased or stolen, the system enables managers to access inventory data for all stores, as well as images of those items. Since the solution was taken live, the retailer has reported that it has been able to capture a daily stock count from its own associates, providing an accurate count in much less time than it took to complete the previous bar-code scan-based count, which was carried out by a third party.

Regarding the payment solution, Lourens says, the checkout process has become faster and more secure. As for the loss-prevention system, he adds, “Alarm situations at exits are handled more professionally, as the security person is notified of the exact product which is making the alarm, and thus causing minimal disruption for the customer.”