The company is rolling out a solution from Nedap by first bringing nine "champion" stores live, then using those stores for training and rollout of the entire chain across Europe and globally.
Global fashion retailer Scalpers is launching a company-wide RFID system that is tracking its inventory as the merchandise flows through the distribution center to its stores and then moves between back rooms and store fronts.
While the solution is aimed at bringing inventory accuracy levels to near 100 percent at all stores in the short term, the company says, it has long-term plans to use the system for point-of-sale (POS) and security functions, as well as offering customer-facing features. The passive UHF RFID system, provided by Nedap Retail, consists of the technology company's !D Cloud software and handheld readers, in addition to customized tunnel readers.
Scalpers is both a brand and a retailer, and sells men's and boys' fashions, with expansion into women's fashion expected to take place later this year. The company, founded in Spain in 2003, has since grown to 150 stores throughout Europe, as well as parts of Mexico, South America and the Middle East. Its inventory moves through a distribution center in Seville, Spain, where the company's headquarters are also located.
"The movement of stock between stores and from the distribution center was getting more complicated each year," says Patricio Lopez de Carrizosa, Scalpers' director of logistics. As more stores come online, and with the greater demand for omnichannel sales via Internet orders, he explains, the company requires high inventory accuracy. As it was, he says, inventory accuracy was close to 92 percent, which was insufficient to guarantee the availability of products ordered via omnichannel sales. In addition, out-of-stocks sometimes occurred at the stores.
Traditionally, the company counted inventory at its stores whenever possible, via bar-code scans of all products on the sales floor and in its back rooms. Those number then had to be reviewed. The manual process simply could not be conducted often enough, Lopez de Carrizosa explains, and was too labor-intensive for sales associates, as well as for warehouse workers at the DC. "This was very tedious," he states. "It required extra labor and was prone to human mistakes."
The company began working with Nedap in late 2017, according to Aldo de Jong, Nedap Retail's director of business and development. "They are a forward-thinking company," he says, "and for them, it was clear that RFID was one of the building blocks they wanted to build out their growth strategy." The !D Cloud software platform is a cloud-hosted suite that acts as a scalable integration layer between Scalpers' enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and RFID readers. It includes an Electronic Product Code Information Services (EPCIS) repository, back-end control of RFID readers, front-end Web browser and in-store application for use with mobile devices.
There was no need for a pilot to prove the technology's functionality, Lopez de Carrizosa says. "We thought the technology is already mature in the markets," he explains, "so there was no need to prove it works." The system was briefly stress-tested at the company's headquarters, he notes, then in the distribution center, after which the full rollout was scheduled.
In fact, de Jong says, most companies no longer opt for pilots since RFID technology has proven itself in other deployments. Instead, the Scalpers installation was designed to begin with nine "champion" stores in which a pre-rollout would take place. In those stores, inventory was tagged and staff members were trained to begin using handheld RFID readers to conduct inventory counts of all goods on a weekly basis. The readers could also be used in Geiger counter mode to locate a specific item that a customer might be seeking.
During the following months, the company plans to expand the system's use to all stores, providing training to sales associates by the champion stores that have already used the technology. In the meantime, Scalpers' garment and accessory manufacturers are tagging winter products at the point of manufacture, which will have begun moving into the DC throughout the past few weeks.
The distribution center is equipped with two RFID tunnel-reading units with built-in Impinj Speedway Revolution (R420) readers with Kathrein RFID Wide Range antennas. A single tunnel is dedicated for goods entering the DC, while the other is intended for products being shipped to stores. The reader system was installed by systems integrator Tag Ingenieros. Warehouse personnel are equipped with Zebra Technologies RFD8500 series handheld readers for exceptions and the reading of tagged items.
As products are received from the manufacturer, they come with a printed shipping list. Warehouse workers move the box through the tunnel reader, and the tags of each product inside the box are read and linked to the description of that item. That data can then be compared against the shipping list to confirm what has been received. The!D Cloud software forwards that information to the company's ERP software and warehouse-management system (WMS).
Once goods are shipped to the store, the boxes are read again. The data is updated in the !D Cloud software and is shared with Scalpers' own software. After the products arrive at the store, sales personnel unpack boxes and store goods in the back room or display them in the store front. The employees then conduct a weekly inventory count using a Zebra or Nedap handheld reader. Scalpers' management can view the data at any given time and determine which goods are at which location. Moreover, the data can prompt automatic replenishment orders from the DC, thereby ensuring that products never go out of stock.
During the coming weeks, Lopez de Carrizosa says, 15 to 20 stores will have the system taken live, with the full 150 stores fully deploying the technology later this year. He says stores will begin reading tagged goods as they are received, in addition to conducting weekly inventory counts after the deployments are live.
"Part of the philosophy of !D Cloud is ease of use," de Jong says. The champion store training is intended to be relatively simple, and the champion store employees will be able to easily train sales associates from other locations. Later this year, he says, the system may also be expanded to include overhead RFID readers at doorways, so that the tags can be interrogated as they leave the store.
In this scenario, the stores would also employ an RFID reader at the point of sale, where tags could be read as products are purchased, thus updating the status of those goods as they are sold. Only tags that have not been decommissioned in this way would sound an alert at the front door, indicating something was being taken without being purchased.
Scalpers is currently tagging all of its products, from clothing to accessories, and Lopez de Carrizosa expects that all will be effectively interrogated by the RFID readers. Although most materials will provide little challenge for the technology, he predicts, "belts and suspenders may be a little difficult," due to the presences of metal, as well as a cologne that the company sells. He says the company will experiment with the best tagging location and orientation on those products, in order to ensure near-100 percent tag read rates.
According to the company, the greatest challenge for the deployment has been ensuring that the system works with a new ERP system that Scalpers is installing simultaneously. Nedap has been able to configure the integration layer of !D Cloud software suite to operate with the new ERP system, de Jong reports.
"For us, the main benefit is going to be stock accuracy," Lopez de Carrizosa says. Since the technology was taken live at the initial nine stores, he adds, "We can see the stock accuracy increasing day by day," as the tags are read throughout each location. "Now, our sales association and warehouse workers are freed up to do other tasks," he adds, and the company has reliable data about inventory counts so that goods can be sold, or moved from one location to another, as needed to ensure availability for sales. "We know that having a high stock accuracy will increase sales."