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New fulfilment challenges prompting retailers to look at RFID

A growing trend towards ship-from-store and click & collect is influencing more and more retailers to investigate the potential of using RFID in their operations, according to BT Global Services' Alison Wiltshire.

The global propositions director for retailing and consumer engagement at the tech company said the demand for inventory accuracy and availability has been a catalyst for realising investment in RFID technology.

At this year's European retail tech solutions show RBTE, which takes place between 10-11 March at London's Olympia, retail visitors will have an opportunity to visit a dedicated RFID Zone showcasing nine companies – including BT – that are bringing the technology to the retail sector.

It is the second year in succession that RFID will be featured in such a way at the European show, and on this occasion visiting retailers will also be able to catch up with representatives from Enso Detego, Impinj, Nordic+, OCS, r-pac, Smartrac, TRC Solutions and Xterprise.

Essential Retail spoke to BT Global Services' Wiltshire to hear her views on RFID's growing influence in retail.

Why are a growing number of retailers realising now is the right time to invest in RFID?

What is (or has been) the most impressive use of RFID in retail that you've seen?

I think we have seen some really innovative uses of RFID in retail – but in pilots, I've seen some fabulous niche product/market uses.

I think I'm yet to be truly, really wowed by a global robust consistent estate-wide solution if I'm really honest, but I think BT is uniquely placed to deliver this – so watch this space!

For me to be genuinely impressed, an impressive innovative use of RFID in retail would be a global solution that was scalable and future-proofed and delivered ROI to the retailer.

What role does your company play in bringing RFID technology to retailers, and which companies are you working with?

BT brings a wealth of experience with respected RFID deployments across multiple industry sectors, but very specifically in retail where we have been deploying solutions for international retailers since 2005.

From the breadth of experience we have gained we believe we can help guide our retail customers to ensure that they maximise the benefits that they can achieve from both pilots and deployments. 

BT has a consultative approach to deploying RFID for our retail customers and work with an ecosystem of partners to bring it all together as an end-to-end global managed service. 

As the digital interactions between customers and merchandise expand, and as these interactions are analysed to enable smarter business decisions (personalised marketing initiatives, after-purchase engagement, etc.) retailers need a partner who can securely manage and utilise this data at a moment's notice. 

We work with customers to identify business challenges and select the right solutions that provide almost immediate benefits. These solutions are part of a strategic journey for our customers who realise the need to innovate their businesses operations with technology. 

We believe it is absolutely critical to set realistic KPIs that can be measured; to understand the business processes that underpin these and evaluate whether these need to be changed/adapted to enable the best results from the deployment of new technology and working with our customers to scope and implement these. We believe that this is a fundamental building block to a successful deployment.

Everyone's talking about the Internet of Things (IoT); what's your definition of this term and how central is RFID in this ultimate drive towards 'a connected world'?

IoT represents a major technology shift where real time information from sensors and devices enables new business models that deliver new levels of productivity and customer experience. In the case of retail, IoT will help deliver a seamless customer experience by providing insight and interaction between the online world and the physical world of the retail store. RFID (and other near field technologies) is one of the IoT technologies that supports seamless experience by enabling merchandise to have a 'voice' to interact with consumers (e.g. provide more information of about the product) and retail operations (e.g. prevent out of stocks or enable better loss prevention). 

Tell us what to expect from this year's RFID Zone at RBTE?

This year the RFID Zone will be bigger and better than before if that is possible! BT will focus on sharing the benefits of digitising merchandise and how retailers can drive better customer experience and engagement, which in turn drives increased sales.

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BT Global Services