Did you have fun with your annual inventory count?

By Tom Vieweger

January 3 2022

Same procedure as every year: taking the annual inventory is a mammoth task for many retailers. And, while most of us were enjoying a few days off, some retail personnel had to spend the last days of the year counting inventory. But are you sure you can count on inventory data gathered in December when you are trying to fulfill an online order from a store in February? 

RFID inventory tracking has significant advantages over barcodes 

Retailers are required to count their inventory at least once by the end of the fiscal year. However, when you'd ask them if the annual inventory was fun, it becomes evident that traditional barcode-based inventory counts are the most tedious tasks for a business. They are expensive to run, time-consuming, and prone to human error. At the moment, keeping your distance, access restrictions, and other hygiene measures also make it more difficult to organize the inventory. Moreover, since the annual inventory counts data gets outdated over time, stock inaccuracies continue to grow over the following months. As a consequence, stores can face out-of-stock situations. 

The better way is tracing products and counting stock with RFID technology, because: 

  1. RFID is easy  
  1. RFID is accurate 
  1. RFID is real-time 
  1. RFID is item-level 

Yes, I know that I am a biased fanboy, but it is proven that stock-taking with RFID is more than ten times faster than barcode scanning. Thus, more importantly, inventory counts can be fun! And finally, real-time tracking of products with RFID delivers continuous end-to-end stock visibility. 

Ensure that the digital experience is true "zero friction" 

Customers expect great shopping experiences in terms of merchandise availability, fulfillment services, and delivery speed. In addition, Post-pandemic, customers want to be able to search, transact, acquire, and consume products and services safely and easily across a retailer's entire ecosystem. In response, many brands and retailers are beginning to connect their inventory. This requires retailers to build a robust customer experience technology while simultaneously managing costs. In this context, Gartner names the following recent top tech trends that retailers must be in tune with: 

  1. Touchless interactions 
  1. Fulfillment execution 
  1. Algorithmic merchandising optimization  
  1. Cost optimization 

No surprise: all those points can be supported by RFID technology. The technology is proven and ensures continuous and frictionless tracking of inventory which is the baseline for better and more accurate allocation, replenishment, and order fulfillment. In addition, data platforms help to provide new, inspiring and comfortable services. Connecting data from different platforms over standardized APIs allows retailers to generate even better insights and identify optimization potential.  

Overcoming supply chain hick-ups 

Even if shoppers' buying mood is coming back and retail is recovering, you can easily say that there is currently sand in the gears of global supply chains these days. Many deliveries are delayed or even canceled, and pressure comes from rising prices and the sheer unpredictability of what will happen next. An obvious countermeasure is to create better stock visibility which simply means knowing what inventory you have on hand and where that inventory is located at any given moment. To a higher degree, with RFID, it is even possible to connect inventory silos. Connected inventories can increase the availability of individual products and broaden the available product range. Delivery times decrease, too, as goods can be dispatched from multiple points close to customers. 

Looking ahead into 2022 

Last year, I stated that "2021 will be the year of the Ox, the year of the vaccine, and the year of RFID", so the question is if this came true and how it looks for the upcoming year? First of all, I must say that we have seen so many new (retail) RFID projects starting up in one year like in the last 12 months –, G-Star, Ganni, Scotch & Soda, Tendam, or Under Armour, to just name a few. And, if we take a look ahead, the trend continues. The reasons why more and more retailers start looking into RFID are manifold, but they are mainly driven by the need for an accurate and real-time view of inventory in the context of an ongoing omnichannel adoption. 

The pace of change will never be as slow as it is today. 

GE's Chief Innovation Officer Sue Siegel 

At this point, let me quote McKinsey's State of Fashion 2022 report, which states that this year will be better than 2021 - Omicron or not - the fashion industry will leave the Covid-19 slide behind in 2022. Industry sales are likely to exceed 2019 levels by 3 to 8%. And, on a positive note, the many challenges surfaced by the ongoing pandemic drove digital retail transformation forward at previously unknown speeds. In the year ahead, retail organizations will continue to capitalize on the momentum of transformational activities, especially in physical locations, to build and maintain the flexibility needed to do business today. 

So, this year I close my post with the statement that 2022 will be the year of ongoing digitization, transformation, and omnichannel excellence. 

Tom Vieweger
RFID business expert
Tom Vieweger