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07/06/2021

Large or Small, How Retailers Are Leveraging RAIN RFID For Inventory Benefits

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While the retail industry overall has taken a hit due to the pandemic, some businesses fared better than others. Big-box retailers like Walmart and Target have done quite well during the pandemic, seeing a huge uptick in online purchases and curbside pickup. Most of these stores were also considered essential and were able to stay open when other non-essential businesses were forced to close.

However, these big retailers lacked the inventory supply needed to keep up with the increased demand of certain essential products like toilet paper and disinfecting wipes, and were often out of stock at the beginning of the pandemic.

On the other hand, specialty retailers, like those found in malls, have been hurt tremendously by the pandemic and were not seeing the same foot traffic due to limited capacity or being shut down altogether as they were not considered an essential business.

With unique challenges for big and small retailers, here are some ways they’re using RAIN RFID and IoT technology during the pandemic and how they’ll navigate the new retail landscape.

Big-Box Retailers

Even before the pandemic, inventory accuracy and visibility were critical for big retailers to make sure the hundreds of thousands of items they’re sourcing from manufacturers and brands all over the world are going to the right places at the right time.

With all the new options available for customers to purchase and receive their items during the pandemic — including delivery, curbside pickup, buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) and traditional but limited in-store shopping — tracking items is even more complicated and can lead to inaccurate inventory counts across stores. Many of these large retailers still rely on traditional barcode scanning to track their inventory, and, according to the Auburn University RFID Lab, the average retail store’s inventory accuracy is only 63% in the pre-pandemic era. In combination with the pandemic, smaller staff and more ways for items to be purchased than ever before, inventory accuracy has never been more important.

Loss prevention has also become more critical for big-box retailers to ensure they know what items are actually leaving the store. Think about employees being able to walk out with bags of goods for curbside delivery. Was each item scanned before it left the store? What if extra items are added to the pickup order and unaccounted for, accidentally or not?

Some big retailers are turning to RAIN RFID to help track inventory more accurately to manage the different ways an item can be purchased. With RAIN, retailers can identify items individually, allowing retailers to go beyond an alarm at the door — they now know which specific item has left the premises. This provides new insights into the causes and occurrences of theft as they happen, preventing future losses.

Inventory items with RAIN RFID tags can also be tracked in real-time as it moves within a store, from back of the store to shelves to checkout. This will help ensure all items leaving the store are accounted for and are going to the right customers.

Mall Tenants

Even before the pandemic, American malls had been on the decline for years. In March 2020 when the shutdown began, mall visits plummeted by 59.5% compared to March 2019, and hit bottom in April at a 95.9% year over year decline, according to Placer.ai. However in December 2020, that deficit was only down 32.4% year over year, showing some promise for malls in 2021. With an overall decline of foot traffic, mall retailers still need to find creative ways to stay in business.

During this time, mall tenants and specialty retailers have turned to RAIN RFID to help convert their mall stores to a hybrid model: part distribution center and part limited in-store shopping experience, giving them more flexibility in omnichannel fulfillment. With full inventory visibility enabled by RAIN RFID tags, mall tenants can save on shipping/logistics costs by shipping items from the stores in closest proximity to their customers. RAIN-tagged inventory enables employees to find items faster to prepare curbside pickup or BOPIS orders.

With smaller inventory numbers to manage and tighter profit margins, it’s critical for specialty retailers to track their supply closely as every sale counts. Having a hot item run out of stock unexpectedly could make or break the sales numbers for that month.

Universal Solutions for All Retailers

Even before the pandemic, self-checkout stations were found to be in many retailers across the country but have proven themselves even more important during the pandemic. Some retailers like Uniqlo and Nike have also deployed RAIN RFID-powered self-checkout stations, enabling customers to simply scan a whole basket of items simultaneously for purchase, instead of scanning each barcode individually. This not only enables speedier checkout times, but frees up additional staff to focus on restocking, fulfilling orders and overall customer service.

This past year has made customers and employees more conscious of crowds than ever before, but there are ways retailers can use IoT technology to manage a store’s capacity. TAGnology, a provider of contactless identification solutions, has implemented a platform to help manage building capacities during the pandemic. Before entering a store or building, a customer picks up an adhesive RAIN RFID label from a contactless dispenser. Once inside, the RAIN RFID label can track popular routes in-store to help create a better flow all while maintaining customer privacy and having an accurate count of how many people are inside.

The Future of Retail in a Post-Pandemic World

Big and small retailers will need to adapt to new consumer habits coming out of the pandemic. With RAIN RFID, retailers will be able to not only keep their customers safer, but also maintain inventory visibility to keep up with the always-changing demand of products, no matter how they’re purchased.

Ashley Burkle is senior manager of retail at Impinj.

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