Improving supply chain visibility through RFID
For years retailers have relied on Radio Frequency (RF) EAS labels to help decrease shrinkage and ensure merchandise is available for customers to purchase. However, with increased competitors and greater pressures from consumers, retailers are seeking ways to further streamline operations and optimise their inventory.
As a result, major retailers are now looking to Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) to improve visibility from the point of manufacture, throughout the supply chain and crucially in-store from the back room to the shop floor, all the way to the exit door.
With the attachment of an RFID tag that conforms to GS1’s EPC global standards, each item in a retailer’s supply chain and stores can be uniquely identified by its attributes such as size, colour and style. This allows retailers greater inventory control and visibility, enabling them to reduce out-of-stocks, increase shelf availability, and drive more sales both in-store and online. Additionally the same RFID tag being used for inventory management can help retailers better manage shrinkage by identifying items that may have been stolen so they can be replenished, further improving inventory accuracy and shelf availability.
Bill McBeath, Chief Research Officer with Chain Link Research, one of the most widely respected research and advisory firms in supply chain management, said: “With intense competition coming from all sides from Amazon and other online channels, discount warehouses and new players to market, it is more important than ever for retailers to differentiate their offer with a unique customer experience.
“It is here that RFID can play a key role and retailers are finding creative new uses for it every day to transform the customer experience.”
RFID’s maturation into mainstream apparel retailing is illustrated by the uptake from some of the biggest high street establishments. These retailers are seeing a clear reduction in out-of-stocks while increasing the on-shelf availability of items which enhances the customer experience.
Indeed, RFID is able to identify each unique SKU and distinguish between styles, colours and sizes, all the time allowing complete traceability throughout the supply chain.
This traceability means logistics can be fully automated, keeping errors to a minimum and stock control accuracy at 95 percent and 99 percent efficiency; minimising out-of-stocks.
In addition, RFID-based inventory audits can identify apparel items that are out of season and therefore need to be removed from the shelf, or hard goods such as pharmaceuticals or consumer packaged goods which may have an expiration date. The increased granularity of RFID-based inventory management results in further improved inventory management systems and better customer experience.
In the same vein, “smart shelves” know how many and which SKUs they carry and which are most popular with shoppers. RFID also offers the possibility of personalised, interactive marketing messages as customers tour a store either via a smartphone, tablet or on in-store screens. This includes relaying messages about the apparel, making accessory suggestions or highlighting personalised offers and promotions.
Retailers that have invested in RFID technologies are reaping the benefits in stock control, customer experience and profit margins. Those who are yet to invest are lagging behind and will ultimately see this reflected in their comparable performance. Essentially, the key to successful retailing lies in merchandise availability and RFID ensures stock levels are optimised to meet consumer demand.
By Neil Mathews, Vice President, Checkpoint Systems.
Biden establishes Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force
The US government is to establish a new body with the express purpose of addressing imbalances and other supply chain concerns highlighted in a review of the sector, ordered by President Joe Biden shortly after his inauguration.
The Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force will “focus on areas where a mismatch between supply and demand has been evident,” the White House said. The division will be headed up by the Secretaries of Commerce, Transportation, and Agriculture, and will focus on housing construction, transportation, agriculture and food, and semiconductors - a drastic shortage of which has hit some of the US economy’s biggest industries in consumer technology and vehicle manufacturing.
“The Task Force will bring the full capacity of the federal government to address near-term supply/demand mismatches. It will convene stakeholders to diagnose problems and surface solutions - large and small, public or private - that could help alleviate bottlenecks and supply constraints,” the White House said.
In late February, President Biden ordered a 100 day review of the supply chain across the key areas of medicine, raw materials and agriculture, the findings of which were released this week. While the COVID-19 health crisis had a deleterious effect on the nation’s supply chain, the published assessment of findings says the root cause runs much deeper. The review concludes that “decades of underinvestment”, alongside public policy choices that favour quarterly results and short-term solutions, have left the system “fragile”.
In response, the administration aims to address four key issues head on, strengthening its position in health and medicine, sustainable and alternative energy, critical mineral mining and processing, and computer chips.
Support domestic production of critical medicines
- A syndicate of public and private entities will jointly work towards manufacturing and onshoring of essential medical suppliers, beginning with a list of 50-100 “critical drugs” defined by the Food and Drug Administration.
- The consortium will be led by the Department of Health and Human Services, which will commit an initial $60m towards the development of a “novel platform technologies to increase domestic manufacturing capacity for API”.
- The aim is to increase domestic production and reduce the reliance upon global supply chains, particularly with regards to medications in short supply.
Secure an end-to-end domestic supply chain for advanced batteries
- The Department of Energy will publish a ‘National Blueprint for Lithium Batteries’, beginning a 10 year plan to "develop a domestic lithium battery supply chain that combats the climate crisis by creating good-paying clean energy jobs across America”.
- The effort will leverage billions in funding “to finance key strategic areas of development and fill deficits in the domestic supply chain capacity”.
Invest in sustainable domestic and international production and processing of critical minerals
- An interdepartmental group will be established by the Department of Interior to identify sites where critical minerals can be produced and processed within US borders. It will collaborate with businesses, states, tribal nations and stockholders to “expand sustainable, responsible critical minerals production and processing in the United States”.
- The group will also identify where regulations may need to be updated to ensure new mining and processing “meets strong standards”.
Partner with industry, allies, and partners to address semiconductor shortages
- The Department of Commerce will increase its partnership with industry to support further investment in R&D and production of semiconductor chips. The White House says its aim will be to “facilitate information flow between semiconductor producers and suppliers and end-users”, improving transparency and data sharing.
- Enhanced relationships with foreign allies, including Japan and South Korea will also be strengthened with the express proposed of increasing chip output, promoting further investment in the sector and “to promote fair semiconductor chip allocations”.