Thomas Pink Piloting IoT System With RFID and Cameras to Manage Inventory, Traffic

The solution, from BT Global Services, enables the use of multiple technologies under the single Acuitas Digital Alliance store platform to manage the inventory of men's shirts, as well as the movement of customer and sales staff traffic around that merchandise.
Published: January 24, 2017

U.K.-based luxury clothing and shirt retailer Thomas Pink launched an Internet of Things pilot at its Wall Street store in New York City this month that features ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID technology to track the movement of merchandise in real time throughout the business, and RetailNext camera-based technology. The solution, provided by BT Global Services, is known as the Acuitas Digital Alliance retail platform. It uses Intel RFID IoT Responsive Retail Platform hardware, SATO Global Solutions software to manage RFID data and RetailNext camera-based data and interpret that information for store management.

BT has been offering RFID-based solutions for retailers of apparel, cosmetics and luxury goods since 2004. However, says Tom Wolf, BT Global Services’ VP for global retail and consumer packaged goods, the company opted for a more integrated IoT platform-based approach approximately a year ago. Combining multiple technologies on a single platform enables retailers to use an integrated solution that provides the basics of RFID-based inventory management, as well as other applications. These include fitting room management, smart mirrors, cameras, infrared (IR) technology and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons.

Tom Wolf

In January 2016, BT helped launch the Acuitas Digital Alliance to develop a more holistic solution. The alliance’s members include BT, Intel (which provides the RFID technology), RetailNext, NexGen Packaging (which supplies RFID tags), SATO Global Solutions (which supplies the software to manage sensor and RFID read data) and digital technology brand protection company Valmarc Corp.

Thomas Pink is the first retailer to publicly announce a pilot of the solution. The firm, founded in London in 1984, was named after an 18th-century tailor who made scarlet hunting coats. The company now operates more than 90 stores worldwide, with flagship stores in London, New York and Paris. Thomas Pink opted to launch the pilot to track some men’s shirts at its Wall Street location, and intends to determine its rollout plans based on the trial’s results. The pilot’s completion data has not yet been scheduled.

For the next few months, the system will track some of the company’s men’s shirts as they move around the store. Thomas Pink declined to comment for this story, but in a press release, the firm indicated that the solution will provide inventory data to ensure merchandise is available, while also tracking the movement of traffic as customers and sales associates walk around the store.

The RFID deployment consists of multiple fixed, ceiling-mounted Intel readers, together with gateway and software comprising the Intel Responsive Retail Platform. The individual readers capture tag transmissions when they detect that a tag is moving. That data is forwarded to a gateway, which, in turn, filters the information. The Responsive Retail Platform software then forwards the location data to the SATO Global Solutions software.

Thomas Pink’s store management can view that location-based data regarding each tagged item moving around its store, and respond accordingly. The software is not integrated with Thomas Pink’s management software; however, Wolf says, such deployments are available to customers.

For the Thomas Pink pilot, tags (provided by NexGen Packaging) are applied to specific men’s shirt stock-keeping units (SKUs) when they arrive at the Wall Street site. The unique ID number encoded on each tag is linked with that specific product’s SKU and is stored in the SATO software. The shirts are then displayed on the sales floor or stored in the back room.

The location data provides a variety of features, not all of which are yet in use by Thomas Pink. For instance, Wolf says, the read data can identify in which zone a particular tag is located, as well as when it is moved to a fitting room, if it has remained in the wrong zone or in the fitting room for a specified amount of time, and if it leaves the store without being purchased. “Over the first few days after an installation,” Wolf states, “retailers find they can get a near-100 percent accurate inventory in real time.”

SATO software enables users to view a hierarchy of data feeds from the RFID system, based on importance. For instance, if an RFID tagged item were in a fitting room and a request had been made via a touchscreen from that fitting room for another item, that request would take priority for a sales associate using an Acuitas Digital Alliance app on a tablet or smartphone. If a shelf were empty or a product were placed in the wrong zone, that data would be presented in a less urgent category.

Currently, however, Thomas Pink’s goal is to utilize the RetailNext data solely to view traffic patterns, and RFID technology only to test the capture of inventory-based information. In this way, the store hopes to use RFID to ensure that products are available on the shelf, and to understand when specific areas of the store are being visited more or less often, based on the RetailNext data.

The Thomas Pink deployment is a first of its kind for BT, Wolf says, since it employs fixed RFID readers rather than handheld models, providing real-time RFID tag-movement data, and also incorporates data from camera-based sensors. “This is an important deployment,” he states.