Target's supply chain boss details RFID deployment plans

US retailer Target has identified RFID as a tool that can help the business provide a seamless customer experience between digital and stores, and the company is making plans to start deploying the technology later this year.

The roll-out of RFID will begin in a small number of stores in the coming months, before expanding to Target's full property estate in 2016.

Tags will be added to items from the retailer's key categories such as womenwear, baby and kids' clothing, and home décor – and Keri Jones, executive vice president for global supply chain & operations at Target, suggests it will be one of the largest RFID projects in retail.

"We're now working with key vendors on a fast-tracked timeline to begin inserting a 'smart label' on price tags that will help Target improve our inventory accuracy and enhance our ability to keep stores in stock," explained Jones.

In a message to the retailer's customer base, published on Target's 'A Bullseye View' section of the corporate website, she added: "You probably wouldn't notice these new RFID tags on your own, necessarily, but that's the point.

"This unobtrusive but significant technology will increase efficiencies by providing greater visibility into our inventory. That means guests will better be able to find out whether we've got the item at their Target store or at others nearby. We also expect RFID to help us better fulfil online orders placed for store pick-up, which already account for 15% of purchases."

In addition, Target is a sponsor of the RFID Lab at Auburn University, which opened its new facility last week.

Working with staff and students at the educational institution, Target representatives plan to explore further ways that RFID tags can help improve the shopping experience.

"My team and I are thrilled about technology's considerable role in upping Target's operations, and in particular, bringing near-complete store inventory accuracy within reach for the first time with RFID," Jones added.

It would appear there is real momentum behind the deployment of RFID in the retail industry, ten years on from when the technology – in a previous guise – looked like shaking up the sector. Large industry players such as Zara owner Inditex are deploying it across their businesses, and this year's RBTE exhibition and conference in London once again hosted an RFID Zone, which attracted significant interest among retailer visitors.

New legislation and structural reform is perhaps creating a platform from which the technology can flourish, as is the wider industry's desire to gain a single view of inventory at every sales touch point.

Indeed, retailers now have an opportunity to consistently define, test and verify the performance level of RFID tags thanks to the creation of some new guidelines by supply chain standards group GS1 US, at the turn of the year. Developed by retailers, suppliers and technology solution providers, the so-called Tagged Item Performance Protocol provides users with a standardised system to benchmark the performance of RFID-tagged items in multiple environments.

In an exclusive article for Essential Retail earlier this month, Andy Robson, supply chain solutions manager at standards organisation GS1 UK, remarked: "Ten years ago the hype behind RFID was deafening, but then not much happened and during that time a number of myths about RFID were spread throughout the industry.

"However now, in 2015, we are seeing an ever increasing number of retailers and brands, in the UK and globally, adopt RFID for item-level tagging, providing the platform to generate multichannel growth, and offering consumers a seamless shopping experience."