In 2012, Marks & Spencer (M&S) made a bold but calculated decision. The London-based clothing and merchandise retailer, which has been using RFID to track and manage apparel items since 2003, decided to extend its RFID-tagging initiative to all general merchandise. M&S is rolling out the solution and plans to have it implemented by spring 2015. When M&S completes the project, all merchandise at 750 of the company's U.K. stores will be identified with RFID tags. In addition, M&S will employ RFID at 200 factories in 20 countries.
M&S, which earned £10.0 billion (U.S. $16.8 billion) in revenues for 2013, now operates 766 stores in the United Kingdom and 418 stores internationally, selling a variety of merchandise and food products. More than 21 million customers visit its stores every week. Its website attracts 3.6 million visitors per week. "We are implementing large-scale revolutionary change that spans our supply chain, stores, Web platform and IT infrastructure, creating a sound base for sustainable future growth," says M&S Chairman Robert Swannell.
RFID has enabled the company to meet its goal of serving as "the store in which you can always find your size." That's no small task, given M&S stocks a complex mix of sizes and styles. M&S flagship stores, for example, stock as many as 25,000 bras, in roughly 60 combinations of back widths and cup sizes, in a variety of colors and styles. Similarly, the company sells jackets and pants in 20 different size combinations and various color combinations. To improve real-time inventory tracking, optimize stock levels and ensure the correct product mix is always on display in stores, M&S will use more than 400 million RFID tags this year.
Building on the Benefits
To be sure, the move to tagging every piece of merchandise required extensive planning—despite the firm's previous experience with RFID (see Marks & Spencer Rolls Out RFID to All Its Stores). M&S had to thoroughly understand workflow, product flow and customer behavior. "In different categories, the causes of an out-of-stock item may be different from those related to clothing, but the problems of identifying it and managing it remain the same," Phillips says.
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