RFID Helps Shoppers Preplan Store Visits at European Fashion Brand

By Claire Swedberg

MS Mode is rolling out a solution at 185 stores to gain visibility into inventory stock levels, better serve online customers and provide them with prearranged store visits to try on products found online.

MS Mode, a European fashion brand under the umbrella of parent company  Cool Investments, plans to increase inventory accuracy with an RFID-based solution that tracks goods at its 185 stores. The technology is initially being launched in three stores, than at all locations by October 2021.  Nedap's iD Cloud solution is being used to ensure that products are available at each site, in order to meet omnichannel sales demands during and following the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the technology, the company intends to better serve its online customers by filling orders from the nearest stores, while allowing shoppers who wish to visit stores to view what is onsite in advance, and to then make a reservation to try on or purchase those items. Once fully deployed at the end of this year, the solution will be what Nedap calls the largest such RFID rollout across the Benelux countries of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

MS Mode's customers have become omnichannel shoppers, says Robert-Jan Haitink, the brand's project manager. Before the pandemic began, customers had already been increasingly conducting their shopping online, often viewing products in stores before arriving to try them on. During the outbreak, a further shift in online shopping behavior emerged, with customers not only browsing goods online before arriving, but making purchases digitally as well. With lockdowns easing over Europe, Haitink says, "We saw that our customers did find their way back to the stores quickly. The social aspect of shopping is still a big driver of store traffic."

The company's stores are located in the Benelux region, as well as in France and Spain. During the pandemic, depending on regulations in each country, stores either were temporarily closed or welcomed a limited number of customers, in some cases to shop by appointment. This had a significant impact on traffic levels, Haitink reports. "Fortunately, our customers are increasingly able to find us and buy online," he says. "We do our utmost best to continue to serve our customers as well, and as safely as possible during this difficult time."

Robert-Jan Haitink

Following the end of the pandemic, Haitink says, the company expects online shopping to remain strong, and that those who visit stores will be more prepared than ever, "because they are used to browsing online now." Even before the coronavirus outbreak, the firm was already planning a deployment of RFID to boost its inventory accuracy. The journey toward RFID technology use began about five years ago, he recalls, when the company started working with Nedap on the business case. By applying a tag to every garment, retailers can now track the location of each unique item and thereby reduce the risk of out-of-stock events.

Dutch fashion store  America Today, another Cool Investments brand, has been employing RFID to track inventory. Based on its positive experience, MS Mode has now opted to begin rolling out the technology without requiring a pilot. The rollout will commence with three stores, allowing some early testing of the new processes and procedures so that store personnel can easily adapt to the technology across the company. "These learnings we want to use for the implementation of all our stores," Haitink says.

The solution that MS Mode is adopting consists of Nedap's iD Cloud standard package, a handheld reader and passive UHF RFID hangtag labels. To uniquely identify each item, the tags are applied to products at the point of manufacture, and they will then be read upon arriving at stores. Each site is equipped with handheld !D Hand readers to capture tag reads, says Bruno Bakker, Nedap's global business-development manager.

As the tags are read, the iD Cloud platform updates the items' status as received at the specific store. The system then forwards that data to an MS Mode app, developed by the brand to ensure, based on algorithms, that it accurately determines which stock should be sent to specific stores and channels, and the time at which this should occur. The tags would next be read when weekly inventory counts are performed and when goods enter the store.

Bruno Bakker

Additionally, Bakker says, a refill functionality in iD Cloud will enable store employees to replenish the sales floor with prioritized refill suggestions based on available stock in the back room. iD Cloud uses a self-learning algorithm to generate refill suggestions, while taking into account size-distribution ranges as observed at a given store. For instance, if medium-sized products were being sold in higher quantities, sales associates would be directed to stock more merchandise of that size on the sales floor

For MS Mode, Haitink says, navigating changing shopper expectations will center around inventory visibility. "Reliable stock administration is a precondition for success," he explains. "The aim is to offer our customers, in the near future, to view the availability of our products in stores and give them the opportunity to reserve this. We believe that you can only do this with reliable stock to avoid disappointing our customers by not having the product."

With RFID, Haitink notes, the company hopes to help offline customers (those physically at stores) by showing the stores' stock online. That feature, he says, will result in personal service from a store's style advisors, to ensure customers can find the products they want to buy. According to Haitink, the company expects to achieve greater operational efficiency as well, which could improve the customer experience.

The company's primary focus, Haitink reports, is to have the RFID system live at all of its stores. The firm will investigate whether RFID could be deployed at its distribution center as well—for example, to automate the inbound receiving process. "In the near future," he says, "we will investigate if we can increase [the] customer experience by using smart mirrors, as well as mobile payment and self-checkout. We will investigate if we can use RFID to strengthen loss-prevention efforts."

The rollout is commencing with stores in the Benelux market, and it will then continue in other countries. The first sites are expected to be live in September 2021, with the full rollout completed in November. Nedap will provide training for managers and associates through its "train the trainer" concept. In this model, Nedap works with what it calls the champion stores—the first three to deploy the technology—to provide training that can then be led by that group throughout the company. "After this," Bakker states, "the champion stores will make sure to train the regional stores by themselves," with regional stores training local sites.