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Decathlon Scores a Big Win With RFID

The French sporting goods retailer is tracking most of its products from factories to more than 1,000 stores in 25 countries.
By Bob Violino
Jun 23, 2016

In 2008, Decathlon set out to achieve three corporate goals: increase the availability of stock in its stores, boost the efficiency of its teams in retail stores and logistics areas, and improve its control of product shrinkage. The French sporting goods retailer, which opened for business in 1976, had grown from a single store in France to more than 1,000 stores in 25 countries.

The end goal was to improve customer satisfaction by ensuring items were on store shelves when customers wanted to buy them. That meant increasing inventory visibility of a wide range of merchandise. Decathlon sells roughly 35,000 different items—apparel, equipment and accessories for 65 sports, for men, women and children—usually in superstores.

EmbiWay, a fixed UHF RFID tunnel reader deployed on conveyor belts at suppliers' factories, monitors boxes as they are shipped out to Decathlon warehouses. (Photo: Decathlon)
In 2013, Decathlon began a global rollout of an RFID solution to track goods throughout its supply chain—from factories to warehouses to stores. Today, RFID is improving efficiencies in all Decathlon facilities—1,030 stores and 43 warehouses. The company has tagged 1.4 billion items—90 percent of its products are tagged at the point of manufacture, says Jean-Marc Lieby, who became RFID project coordinator at the beginning of 2015.

The RFID solution has increased product availability on store shelves, which, Lieby says, has had a direct impact on the customer experience and sales. "The first source of dissatisfaction of a customer is failing to find a product on the shelf," he explains. Decathlon saw an 11 percent increase in sales from July 2014 to July 2015, and the company attributes part of that growth to the RFID deployment. Decathlon also says the RFID solution has helped the company meet its other goals: improved efficiencies and a decline in product shrinkage.

A behind-the-scenes look at how Decathlon achieved this success reveals a carefully planned and well-executed approach to addressing the retailer's business issues.

Developing a Strategic Game Plan
In 2008, Decathlon's managers studied possible solutions for improving internal processes and came to the realization that RFID was the only technology that could enable the retailer to meet its objectives, Lieby says. They created a project committee, led by Patrice Ribout, an IT engineer. For the next five years, they met weekly to discuss the move to RFID, with input from consulting firms. The committee examined strategies for improving processes and defined conservative key performance indicators (KPIs). They decided to examine the technology from a cost-benefit standpoint within the context of a 10-year business plan.

In 2010, Decathlon created a "lab" at a store in France, to test and measure the accuracy of various RFID handheld readers and tags. The committee also conducted a pilot at the store to evaluate several use cases.

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