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Marks & Spencer Rolling out RFID to all its stores

Posted: 5th November 2013
Category: General Blog Posts

As a keen shopper, when out buying clothes the most frustrating thing for me is to find an item that you want but the store has stock in every size but your own! Well fortunately one store may have the answer! As one of the UK’s leading retailers with over 760 stores and with over 21 million people visiting their stores each week shopping for clothing, home products and food, M&S is updating its radio frequency identification technology as it begins to tag all clothing and hard goods as a successor to the barcode to provide better customer service through improved product availability.

As a pioneer in the use of RFID, in 2001 M&S began attaching re-useable RFID tags to food trays for tracking deliveries between their suppliers and distribution centres to find out how well the technology functioned. With the technology working successfully, M&S report that almost 10 million RFID-tagged food trays are now continuously transported around their supply chain from supplier to distribution then finally to your local store, with trays of fresh flowers and plants also now being tracked.

Based on this initial success, M&S established that RFID could track inventory within its stores, based on an initial trial conducted to tag and track some clothing at several of its stores. With RFID proving it was up to the task, the company has since expanded the deployment to over 550 UK stores and the technology's use has now been expanded to include home goods, such as bedding, accessories and kitchenware. It is rolling out the new system throughout its store operations during 2013, and will have all its apparel and hard goods RFID-tagged by spring 2014.

Prior to using RFID it was a time consuming and labour intensive job to count stock manually, typically taking each store up to eight hours. Using the RFID system however, the same process takes about one hour, using hand-held RFID scanners which read the unique serial number that is encoded onto the chip of every tag using microchips from Swiss company EM Microelectronic. With a database matching each ID number with the colour, style and size of the tagged item, this ensures accurate replenishment orders are issued overnight to the distribution centre, enabling the store to be fully stocked the following day.

This technology has helped Marks & Spencer increase both efficiency and customer service. Thanks to RFID the inventory-taking process has become faster and more efficient, with the store well stocked with a variety of sizes and styles, and knowing exactly what stock is in each of its stores. The retailer wants to use RFID to help further its goal of 100 percent stock accuracy that will enable it to ensure the right goods are delivered to the right store at the right time.

So as a customer, choosing your style and colour may take the time but technology will help to ensure stock is available in the size you want, hopefully with this RF technology already proving successful, more high street retailers will follow suit!