Wolky Reduces Stock-Outs, Boosts Sales With RFID

By Beth Bacheldor

The Dutch retailer is tagging all of its shoeboxes, and is using handheld readers to take inventory for its online and brick-and-mortar stores.

Using an RFID-enabled inventory- and retail-management system provided by Nedap Retail, Dutch shoe retailer Wolky has significantly reduced its incidence of inventory errors. During the first two weeks of using the system, the company found that its stock accuracy jumped from 84 percent to 98 percent. Those accuracy gains, the company reports, led to fewer stock-outs and an increase in sales.

Manually counting and tracking stock can be time-consuming and error-prone, particularly considering that pairs of shoes come in multiple sizes and colors, are often put on hold by customers, are transferred between stores, and are sometimes mislabeled when entered into an inventory-management system. Using an automated RFID-enabled process, says Tom van Geemen, Wolky's CEO, reduces the amount of time required to check inventory levels and improves accuracy—which is essential for the retailer, especially since it uses its in-store inventory to fulfill orders placed on its Web site and has integrated real-time stock information with its online store. "For our customers, it was a big improvement to know what was actually in stock," he states. "From that perspective, we realized that we needed a stock accuracy of 100 percent, instead of an average of 95 percent. Because of the work of Nedap, we are now realizing this. And in all shops, the sales staff is realizing that the stock accuracy is very helpful for them as well, and raises the amount of satisfied customers."

Wolky store employees take inventory twice weekly, using the !D Hand device to read the RFID tag attached to each shoebox, and then view the results on a mobile device.

Wolky, which sells the Wolky brand of comfort shoes in a variety of styles, just finished rolling out Nedap's Store !D system at its eight brick-and-mortar stores in the Netherlands, as well as at one location in Germany. To date, the retailer reports that it has tagged more than 3,000 pairs of Wolky shoes. According to van Geemen, Wolky Shop intends to tag its entire stock by year's end, and expects to have approximately 25,000 pairs tagged.

Store !D consists of the !D Hand, a mobile RFID reader weighing 250 grams (8.8 ounces) and capable of reading up to 10,000 RFID tags per hour; an application that runs on the Apple iPod Touch, iPhone or iPad, and which processes all of the tag reads; !D Cloud, an online service for managing and analyzing all of the collected data; and paper labels embedded with passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC Gen 2-compliant tags. The system works with any EPC RFID tag programmed with Serialized Global Trade Item Number (SGTIN) codes, including hard tags.

The !D Hand, which is central to Store !D, is capable of reading both passive UHF tags and Near Field Communication (NFC) high-frequency (HF) RFID tags (see RFID News Roundup: Nedap Intros Dual UHF RFID and NFC Handheld Device), though The Wolky Shop is not presently employing the NFC functionality, which can be utilized to authenticate and identify workers who use !D Hand. The !D Hand reader communicates via a Bluetooth connection with other mobile devices running the Store !D app, such as an iPhone or iPad. The app, which can be downloaded from the Apple iTunes Web site, can be activated by the retailer via a QR code provided by Nedap. Such activation is required to initially establish a secure connection with !D Cloud. The retailer simply scans the QR code that it receives from Nedap, using the camera on the iPod Touch, iPhone or iPad. This QR code identifies the customer and user, and is used by the app to set up a secure connection to the customer's database in the !D Cloud. As the !D Hand reads tags, each tag is registered, filtered and processed by the Store !D app, which synchronizes the tag reads, product data and client's locale with information residing in !D Cloud.

Wolky is affixing an RFID label to each shoebox as shipments are received at the stores (inventory at each store is also used to fulfill online orders from Wolky's two international Web shops). Subsequently, the retailer uses the !D Hand to program and serialize each RFID sticker, by scanning the EAN13 bar code printed on each shoebox. All of the collected data is automatically uploaded from the mobile device to !D Cloud. For now, Nedap indicates, Wolky is utilizing an off-the-shelf clothing label made with Alien Technology's ALN-9627 ("H") inlay, which features Alien's Higgs-3 chip. Nedap has tested and verified the performance of this and other tags, and has specified a range of approved tags in various shapes and sizes, of which the performance and reliability are constantly verified and closely monitored.

Twice weekly, store personnel conduct inventory counts using the !D Hand. While taking inventory, employees track what is being done using a mobile device, via a Bluetooth link with the !D Hand reader. The app provides an overview of what is being scanned, says Mohssine Ouchen, Nedap's international business development manager, and "displays meaningful product information, such as the name, size and color, not just the RFID code."

The information culled during inventory counts is correlated with inventory data compiled in the company's enterprise resource planning (ERP) system from purchase orders, shipping notices and more. Employees can then investigate any differences between the goods found during the inventory process, compared with what should be on hand according to inventory manifests, in order to determine if any shoeboxes were missed, or if other errors were made. The app on the mobile device helps personnel reconcile mistakes; it displays which items are missing, and workers can use the !D Hand to scan the room and search for them.

Wolky first tested Store !D at two stores during the first quarter of this year, with a few selected product categories, and then expanded the system to all of its locations during the second quarter. Currently, Ouchen says, the retailer is scaling up the number of product categories that are tagged within each store.

The company does not currently use Nedap's fixed readers, which include !D Gate (with a floor-mounted security antenna), !D Top (an overhead antenna) and !D POS (an RFID-enabled point-of-sale reader). These devices and others, Ouchen explains, could be added at a later stage for electronic article surveillance (EAS) and/or monitoring product movements, such as goods being moved from a store's back room onto the sales floor.

Wolky is not the first retailer to deploy Nedap's RFID system. In October 2011, Nedap signed a deal with Desigual, a Spanish fashion brand and retailer, which is using the technology to prevent theft. Desigual replaced all of its EAS systems with !D Gates, as well as other solutions. Nedap's technology is also being utilized as part of an item-level RFID system to track inventory, sales and security at a store and a distribution center belonging to Russian footwear retail chain CentrObuv (see CentrObuv Finds RFID a Good Fit for Shoes).