Opinions Technology

How RFID is Helping Retailers Cope with Christmas

The lead up to Christmas is, for many retailers, the busiest and most lucrative time of the year. It’s the period when companies need to be completely on the ball when it comes to managing their inventory, ensuring that there is enough of everything in stock to meet the increased demands of the frantic shopping season. To help deal with the high volumes of products, many retailers are turning to Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and here we’ll look at how this technology plays a vital role during the Christmas rush.

For those not familiar with RFID, it is essentially a system comprised of RFID tags and RFID readers. RFID tags are small microchips that are attached to items and the RFID readers are used to scan them. Tags come in many varieties, including some which are embedded into adhesive labels and can be attached to almost any item. These passive forms of tag also benefit from not requiring a power source as they are activated by the reader. This makes them very inexpensive and suitable for use with high volumes of products. As each tag has its own, unique identification, it means each tagged item in a retailer’s inventory can also be individually identified.

The role of the RFID reader is to discover the unique identification of the tag and, through doing so, enables the company to know its precise location. During the scanning process, the data stored on the tag is recorded by the reader and logged on the company’s inventory system. This enables the company to know exactly how much of each product is in stock at any particular time and where those products are, whether in the warehouse or on the shelves.

One of the biggest advantages of RFID systems is the speed and accuracy in which they operate. Readers are able to read multiple tags at once and, depending on the radio frequency, over various distances. Placing a range of readers at intervals across a premises makes it easy for shops and warehouses to count the large numbers of items leaving the shelves during the Christmas run-up.

This process, which can be fully automated and help cut the need for additional seasonal staff, enables managers to track inventory all the way through the supply chain, ensuring they know which items are selling well and need to be reordered and which are not. This helps companies sell more of the popular items and prevents wasting money on products that would otherwise have ended up in the Boxing Day sales.

For large scale retailers with multiple warehouses and many stores, RFID readers become an integral element of an IoT system. By hosting their IT systems in the cloud, the data collected from any single reader can be stored and processed online and accessed by any company employee with authorisation. This makes it possible for senior staff to have a real-time overview of the entire operation, enabling them to carry out tasks such as adjusting deliveries of products to individual stores based on differences in regional demand. Why buy in new stock for Luton, when it can be redirected from Liverpool where no-one is buying it? Information of this kind produces the kind of agility that can have a significant impact on the quarterly profits.

Besides having an impact on large-scale operations, RFID can also help with the small but very important things. When the desperate parent finds the last Harry Potter Lego Set has vanished from the shelves with only a few days to go until the big day, it will be a simple matter to locate any unsold sets sitting on the shelves elsewhere and to see if one can be delivered in time. Doing this does not just add another sale, it saves a child’s Christmas and wins the company the eternal gratitude of a stressed-out parent who, no doubt, will remain a loyal customer and post a well-deserved 5-star review about the quality of the service they have received.

The other benefit of RFID is that once the trimmings are down, all the valuable data that has been collected can be analysed. This can provide the detailed information the company needs to drive its business forward over the long-term, such as making improvements to procurement, eradicating bottlenecks in the supply chain and re-evaluating inventory purchase decisions based on accurate, store by store data.

In the end, RFID scanners and tags, such as those available from Universal Smart Cards, are the modern equivalent to Santa’s little helpers. Their ability to count and identify each item of stock so that accurate, up to the minute records of inventory can be accessed by anyone who needs them, puts a company at a distinct advantage. It ensures popular items are available, prevents the reordering of poorly performing stock, reduces the need for seasonal staff, improves agility and helps keeps the magic of Christmas alive for kids wanting those ‘must-have’ presents.