Matalan takes RFID route and introduces technology to full UK estate

Fashion and homeware retailer Matalan is rolling out RFID across its 220 UK stores after identifying the technology as a key tool for improving inventory accuracy and visibility.

The Merseyside-based business is working with full service RFID provider SML RFID, deploying the vendor’s RFID tags and item-level inventory management software, Clarity.

Full roll-out of the technology comes after a two-year pilot in two stores uncovered inventory inaccuracies across the business. RFID adoption is expected to significantly improve this situation, enabling the retailer to receive stock from its central distribution centre and report delivery discrepancies back to the warehouse management system.

An expected customer service gain comes in the fact Matalan store associates will be able to serve customers with a real-time view of stock availability and location.

The SML solution utilises over 900 handheld terminals from Zebra Technologies, while the data is stored in Microsoft’s Azure Cloud platform.

Highlighting the importance in which RFID is held at Matalan head office, Howard Reed, CTO, remarked: “Without RFID technology, we will not be able to deliver on our customers’ shopping experience needs.”

He also revealed that the initial pilots with SML also provided a “significantly improved view of our inventory and the return on investment across the business was apparent”. That latter point marks a turning point in retailers’ perception of RFID, with early versions of the technology often deemed too expensive to implement by the industry.

That has changed now, with many retailers – particularly in the fashion space – starting to see the technology’s potential benefits. Zara owner Inditex, Reiss and Superdry are among the European businesses currently rolling out the technology, from a variety of providers, across their estates.

Dean Frew, SML’s CTO and senior vice president of RFID solutions, commented: “The past year has been significant for item-level RFID technology adoption as more retailers report on their return on investment using the technology.

“Matalan is a prime example of how a retailer can utilise the technology to improve its daily operations, deliver on an enhanced customer experience and provide multi-channel shopping opportunities.”

Matalan is on a drive to bring new retail technology into its business, recently launching a UX Lab in its Knowsley headquarters to ramp up and deliver new features for its eCommerce business. The retailer has also introduced Oracle Retail cloud solutions to map inventory assortments against consumer preferences and seasonal trends.

The Oracle Retail Merchandise Financial Planning Cloud Service and Oracle Retail Assortment Planning Cloud Service tools aim to help Matalan leverage its data for commercial gain.

Meanwhile, Matalan can be classed in the category of Christmas UK retail winners, reporting year-on-year quarter-three sales growth of £14.5 million to £308.3 million. There was a drop in EBITDA of £4.9 million to £40 million during Q3, but Matalan attributed it to currency headwinds.

Kate Ormrod, lead retail analyst at business intelligence company GlobalData, said: “While its value price positioning is beneficial, the fact that there remains appetite for its proposition is a confidence boost for the retailer amid a particularly competitive market, both from value players such as Primark, but also from discounting mid-market retailers.”