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Marks & Spencer to extend RFID rollout

Retailer says stock accuracy on clothing items has improved

Dave Friedlos, 16 Nov 2006

Marks & Spencer (M&S) will begin the phased rollout of item-level radio frequency identification (RFID) tags in 2007 following more than a year of extensive testing of the technology.

The retailer plans to increase the number of stores that tag individual clothing items, including men’s suits and women’s casual wear, from 42 to 120 by next spring.

James Stafford, head of clothing RFID at M&S, says the company will also expand the number of clothing departments using the technology from six to 13 by autumn 2007, to improve efficiency and customer service.

‘Stock accuracy has improved and stores and customers have commented on the more consistent availability of sizes in the pilot departments,’ he said.

The retailer began tagging clothing, including men’s suits, trousers and jackets, and women’s suits, casual trousers and skirts, last year. This year it extended the trial to include its autumn and winter range, bringing the total number of tags used to more than 35 million.

The tags allow staff to carry out stocktaking more efficiently by passing an RFID reader over goods to determine what products need to be replaced. This has led to improved sales through greater product availability.

AMR Research analyst Nigel Montgomery says the full rollout will provide M&S with a significant competitive advantage.

‘This is proof that waiting until the technology is more mature is not necessarily the right strategy, as M&S opted to learn as the technology developed,’ he said. ‘But it went about the trials in a sensible way. It kept the scope of the trials tight, kept their expectations reasonable and did not jump too far ahead with the trials.’


Marks & Spencer extends RFID trial

Retailer examines ways to improve service to customers

Retail giant Marks & Spencer (M&S) is to extend item-level trials of radio frequency identity (RFID) technology from nine to 53 of its UK stores.

The next phase will start in spring 2006, and see the company expanding use of the technology from men's suits to other products with availability issues - those with complex sizing structures such as bras, which have 68 different sizes.

M&S will also investigate how the technology can improve services to customers by integrating labels containing the RFID chip into traditional paper barcode labels that already contain information about the size and cost of an item.

But the tags will be passive, meaning they do not transmit any information unless a scanner is passed over them.

'RFID may have the potential to significantly improve product availability, which research has shown is a key issue for customers,' said a spokeswoman.

The retailer has chosen BT to work with on the trials. 'BT has been selected as the main contractor on the trial, providing managed IT development, and ongoing deployment and maintenance of mobile RFID readers in-store alongside tag and reader supplier Intellident,' said the spokeswoman.

The retailer will use mobile scanners - which can read RFID labels 20 times quicker than traditional barcode labels - in phase two of the trial, allowing M&S to speed up stock checks.

At the end of each day, stock on the shop floor will be scanned. Data collected will be compared with information in a central database containing each store's stock profile, to trigger replenishment orders.

'M&S is being pretty pragmatic about this move to extend its RFID trial,' said Neil Macehiter, partner at analyst Macehiter Ward-Dutton. 'And it's clearly oriented towards cost benefits by merging the barcode and RFID label into one.

'The issue is not the device itself, though. It will be how well the back-end systems cope with actually exploiting this more detailed information.'

The spring 2006 trial will be completed by the summer. The clothing trials supplement tests on four million returnable food produce delivery trays that started in 2002.

Miya Knights, 23 Feb 2005


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