Feb 25, 2019Retailers are competing to more quickly deliver products or make them available to shoppers through online purchasing. Voice Norge AS had adopted an RFID system to help lead that effort, by not only providing online shopping, but also enabling shoppers to view which products are available in their neighborhood stores before going there, so that they can pick up purchased goods in their own neighborhood. The inventory data is being captured via a UHF RFID-based system from Nedap.
Voice Norge has deployed RFID technology across all of its stores to enable this feature and has found that sales are up at the pilot locations. Voice, based in Oslo, operates 200 stores across Norway, including Match, VIC and Boys of Europe. The retailer sought a system with which it could offer better product availability and thereby increase sales.
Nedap's !D Cloud RFID software platform captures Electronic Product Code (EPC) data as goods are received and counted at stores, explains Mark Kasbergen, Nedap's global business developer. The system enables Voice Norge to share that information with customers on its website, so that they can make purchase decisions based on the products available for sale at specific locations. The rollout started in February 2018 and was completed within six months. According to Kasbergen, this is the largest RFID deployment in the Nordic retail market to date.
Voice Norge sells clothing for men, women and children. As the retailer's business grew, it began looking for a technology-based solution to make inventory management faster and more accurate, says Kari Anna Fiskvik, the firm's chief development and technology officer. Traditionally, the company counted inventory at all of its store only twice annually, and the process was slow and costly, making up-to-date inventory data hard to come by.
Accuracy was another challenge, Fiskvik says. "Though our store employees worked hard to secure an accurate inventory," she explains, "it would just never be accurate enough," since the manual processes involved in counting inventory left room for errors. By increasing inventory accuracy, the company would not only be able to improve on-shelf product availability for shoppers, but also move toward an omnichannel model since it could be confident that inventory counts at the stores nearest to online shoppers were accurate.
The company first investigated RFID technology in 2009, but it decided deployment costs were too high. Eight years later, the firm revisted the technology and found that it was proving to be affordable and effective for other companies. It then began working with Nedap to create a solution. "We agreed to focus on inventory and replenishment in stores," Fiskvik recalls, "and found a cost-effective way to start up a pilot."
The four-store pilot was launched in 2017 at Boys of Europe outlets in the cities of Vinterbro, Herkules, Larvik and Tveit, all in the southern and eastern areas of Norway. The pilot ran from April to September of 2017, Fiskvik says, during which the system provided more than 98 percent stock accuracy. With such accuracy, she adds, "We were able to replenish much better and we experienced an increase in sales at about 3 percent."
Voice Norge began source-tagging goods at its point of manufacture in the spring of 2018. The company is using UHF RFID tags provided by Maxim Integrated, with built-in NXP Semiconductors UCODE chips. The tagged goods are then shipped to the company's distribution center. Approximately 20 percent of the firm's products come from other brands, and those products will be tagged at the stores. Most printers used at the stores are Sato CL4NX models.
Initially, Fiskvik notes, the source-tagged goods are not being read at the distribution center, which is undergoing expansion. Now that the rollout to stores is completed, the company plans to launch the next phase, in which readers may be employed at the DC to bring visibility to its receiving and shipping processes.
When goods are received at the store level, associates employ Nedap's !D Hand 2 RFID readers to interrogate the tags during the receiving process. The readers employ a Bluetooth connection to forward data to an iOS mobile device running an !D Cloud app. The app also works on Android-based devices, Kasbergen says. The enterprise resource planning (ERP) software is then updated to indicate what items are at the store, and are thus available for sale from that location. Staff members periodically utilize the handhelds to update inventory in the store front and back room. In that way, managers can view which goods are on display and when they require replenishment.
Customers purchasing goods online can place orders for products on display at nearby stores. Those orders are received at the store, and staff members use the RFID data to locate the items that have been ordered and prepare them for shipping. While the RFID technology is still in its earliest stages, Fiskvik says, she expects online sales to increase and overall sales to grow as well. "Although it's early days," she states, "we already see that 10 percent of our online customers check the availability in store when they are online."
In the long term, the retailer plans to expand the technology's use—not only to track inventory movement at the warehouse, but also to increase services at the stores. Fiskvik says the comapny will begin piloting magic mirrors and self-checkout stations using RFID. "Nedap also has a very exciting in-store replenishment solution that helps you move stock in the store," she states. "We are very excited to start testing this."