Bon-Ton Prevails With RFID


Founded in 1898, The Bon-Ton Stores has a long history of innovation. Despite a commitment to operational modernization, the regional department store’s display compliance and inventory management process was woefully cumbersome and devoid
of technology. 

“We questioned the accuracy of it,” says Lisa Celebre, VP store operations, Bon-Ton. “We had a manual process, which would require associates with a piece of paper to walk the selling floor, take an educated guess on what was missing from the floor, go back into the stockroom, locate the missing merchandise in the stockroom, pull it and get it prepped and on display. “

If the associates didn’t know the store had a new shipment in, they wouldn’t know those colors and styles were available, Celebre reveals.

“Given it’s a display item, if you don’t have it displayed on the selling floor, you can’t sell it,” she explains.  

Bon-Ton knew the time-consuming and highly inaccurate process was impacting sales, customer service and staff efficiency. Bon-Ton audits even revealed that with the manual system, up to 20% of available merchandise in certain categories might be missing from the sales floor during a given week. The company knew the system needed a complete makeover, particularly in its shoes and luggage departments.

“We really wanted an easy-to-use device that would allow our associates to go through our selling floor, scan the products on the floor and then immediately get a printout that could compare the items on display against the on-hand inventories that we owned in the store,” says Steve Byers, EVP, stores, visual merchandising, loss prevention, Bon-Ton. 

The company found its solution with Zebra, which helped Bon-Ton implement a radio frequency identification (RFID) system. Bon-Ton embarked on a three-store pilot that was so successful it quickly rolled the RFID inventory solution out to 25 additional locations to validate the original findings. Bon-Ton then began a two-phase rollout in more than 150 additional locations, providing each store with hands-on training to make sure the implementations were successful.

“After we rolled out the RFID tech we could see a lift in sales after the first couple of weeks, pretty much once we started getting 100% representation on the sales floor,” notes Celebre. 

Today, employees in more than 180 of Bon-Ton’s 261 stores use Zebra’s MC3190-Z RFID readers on a daily basis to streamline the display compliance process. When associates arrive in the morning, they scan the selling floor using the RFID readers. The system then generates a report they can use to find missing items in the stockroom. Associates then tag the items in the stockroom with RFID labels and place them on display before the store opens. The system is used in shoes and luggage, but Bon-Ton plans to expand its use in other departments. 

“I think the technology itself is really easy to use,” says Celebre. “Probably our number one challenge, quite frankly, was the trepidation of the selling associates. They had a high level of confidence that they had all the styles represented out on the selling floor. After we ran the first report, I think the associates were enlightened that, as much as they thought they had everything out on the selling floor, they in fact didn’t.”

“RFID technology has allowed us to have the stock that’s in the store represented in front of the customer every day,” says Byers. “And if our associates can spend less time doing the non-selling functions and more time taking care of the customers, it’s going to help grow our business.”  

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