Apr 25, 2021Ed. Note: A version of this article originally appeared at Retail TouchPoints.
Like many other industries, retail is currently in its most testing period, yet "buy online, pickup in-store" (BOPIS) is currently revolutionizing the modern-day retail experience. BOPIS is a hybrid shopping experience allowing customers to buy items online and then pick them up at a physical store. BOPIS helps retailers provide a more accurate stock inventory and better visibility of the stock, keeping supply chains running smoothly. The transition from BOPIS 1.0 to 2.0 is one of the most significant retail technology upgrades. The transformation is best described as upgrading from pen and paper to a modern computer. While the pen and paper works, it might not be the quickest or most advanced option, nor the most organized approach if used continuously.
The Future of RFID and Retail
This has been an exceptionally turbulent year for all, with 2021 somewhat following suit. Suffering from multiple blows throughout the year, the retail industry, in what is usually a steadfast and resilient sector, has been brought to a shuddering halt in most of the world. Overnight, all non-essential stores were forced to shut, and where stores were closing, months of stock were staying put on retail shelves. Even when steps were taken to reopen retail, it was with a vastly different outlook and a dramatically different model from what was needed before the 2020 pandemic hit.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a phenomenon never seen before in the supply chain—a total emptying of the product pipeline, then the startup of that massive supply chain again. However, BOPIS 2.0 technology aids the ability to repopulate these emptied pipelines and supply chains. By taking advantage of item-level RFID technology and its drastic improvement in inventory accuracy for BOPIS 2.0, it can be a kickstarter to the retail sector and become a technology "must-have" for the apparel, footwear, home goods, cosmetics, sporting goods and electronics sectors.
No matter where in the supply chain, RFID technology offers retailers the ability to gain full visibility of all stock across their entire estate. RFID solutions allow retailers to experience a level of accuracy of more than 98 percent, showing exactly how much stock they have, what they are missing, where that stock currently is, what needs to be replenished and what may be bloated inventory. What's most impressive, though, is what the technology can do for BOPIS models. Knowing what you have, definitively, allows you to make commitments to customers with confidence not found in today's BOPIS.
New BOPIS operational models are not possible with traditional 70 percent (or less) inventory accuracy. By using RFID, BOPIS 2.0 retailers can effectively ascertain the exact amount of stock they have left, what areas need restocking, what suitable alternatives are for stock that isn't available, and where the rest of the current stock supply is. It can also enhance the customer experience and satisfaction by accurately allowing retailers to locate new stock in busy stockrooms and on shop floors.
COVID-19 and the New Retail Reality
We should not expect our shopping experiences to return to normal for a sizable amount of time. As expected, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way we live our lives in almost every way, and the retail sector is no different. The pandemic has introduced an enhanced level of "hybrid shopping." Since the evolution of the Internet, this purchasing method has been readily available for the majority, but not to the levels that we saw since the pandemic struck.
With people adhering to social distancing and lockdown guidelines, more shopping is taking place online, but stores are essential to meet customer expectations and experiences. Stores and retailers have had to limit the number of shoppers in the store at any given time and have had to introduce strict shopping measures, such as time limits and one-way aisles.
To avoid disruption as well enable limited customer contact, an accurate BOPIS system can allow shoppers to quickly and remotely know whether their desired item is in stock in-store. There have also been strict restrictions placed on shoppers' ability to "try before you buy," so many have been buying various sizes and returning those that aren't right. An accurate BOPIS system can help you get these items back into the supply chain as quickly as possible, avoiding unnecessary time delays.
What to Expect in 2021
It's difficult to predict what the next 12 months have in store when it comes to retail and the "normal" we were used to. From the unpredictability of 2020, we're expecting to see the shopping landscape evolve and adjust even further than it currently has into 2021. Yet if retailers implement an effective BOPIS strategy, they can look to future-proof their business and be prepared for any future uncertainties.
The most significant trend, moving into 2021, will be the continuation of omnichannel shopping, such as BOPIS and "buy online, ship from store" (BOSFS). With social-distancing measures introduced globally looking set to stay, BOPIS and BOSFS should be expected to be a key trend. We should also expect RFID technology to be at the center of this transformation for the next 20-plus years.
Nothing will be certain in 2021. With a lack of stability within many aspects of everyday life, normality is still seeming to be in the distant future. Implementing new trends like BOPIS can both enhance the retail shopping experience and prepare functionality if testing periods continue. Omnichannel retail has been around for a good amount of time. If 2020 has taught retail anything, it shows that by utilizing these trends, online consumption can withhold another straining time of uncertainty.
Dean Frew is the chief technology officer and senior VP for RFID solutions at SML Group and the founder of SML Intelligent Inventory Solutions (formerly Xterprise, acquired by SML in 2013). With more than 20 years' experience in delivering RFID solutions to retailers and brand owners around the globe, Frew is responsible for SML's overall strategy in driving forward its RFID tags and solutions.