As Katarzyna Sobierska, regional operations leader, Decathlon Poland, states, “We are constantly looking into future, therefore we are pioneers in implementing the newest trade technologies”. When the company faced a vision of global growth, it has chosen RFID technology as a supporting and brand-developing solution. Soon after its implementation, Decathlon’s sales increased and cargo losses were reduced.
Currently, the company is getting further benefits while implementing another RFID-based solution in its stores and warehouses. Decathlon has been followed by other brands from different markets, also in Poland. According to Mark Andy, the global manufacturer of narrow web label presses that incorporates RFID application modules, the radio frequency identification technology should be considered by packaging and label printers and converters, especially those cooperating with brand owners from different market areas.
RFID at Decathlon: A History of Successful Implementation
Sobierska explains that before implementing RFID technology, the company has previewed its activities on every stage, trying to identify areas to improve. “We found out that payment transactions, realized on-site, were one of these areas,” she notes. Sobierska further elaborates that “Customer service was too long and too many employees were involved in this process. Other weaknesses were missing products on the shop shelves (although they were actually in the store), thefts, too much time spent on inventories and delivery control. Considering all these factors, Decathlon decided to implement RFID technology and eliminate all these problems. The project, covering our whole network, became a huge success."
RFID technology enables reading and sending data, as well as electronic charging of chips containing the mentioned data. Depending on a carrier (called also a tag) and a chip inside, RFID is used in many fields of life. It is increasingly used in label and packaging markets, e.g. during its production run by printing houses or by brand owners themselves. “We use it in sales, warehousing, logistics. Currently, almost 100% of all the products offered by Decathlon’s own brands in our shops worldwide are RFID tagged. We use this technology in clothing tags, woven labels, product tags as well as labels and packaging for food products offered in our stores (energetic beverages, sport nutrition bars, diet supplements etc.). Application processes of such a tag/label is proceeded using several different techniques. One of them is implementing a printed RFID tag during a manufacturing process of a product. A tag can be also applied and printed on-site – in a store or a warehouse. As most of our assortment is Decathlon’s own brand offer, the whole implementation – being a huge challenge, to be honest – was very smooth. However, we also co-operate with some external suppliers who had to suit our new technology requirements. Currently, almost every company interested in a co-operation with Decathlon must deliver RFID-tagged labels on its products,” Sobierska says.
“Such requirements are being introduced by an increasing number of brand owners worldwide and it concerns Poland, too,” adds Lukasz Chruslinski, European Sales Manager, responsible for RFID-based solutions at Mark Andy. He continues, “In our country RFID technology is commonly used in logistics and warehousing. It also becomes more popular in trade and services. Clothing stores, food markets, shoe shops, furniture showrooms, building markets, laundries, hotels are examples of enterprises that have already implemented this innovative solution. Moreover, unattended, self-service shops, based on RFID technology are being established. Every product offered by such a store is RFID-tagged. After putting a product into the basket, the RFID-based system reads the price in a few seconds, so we can pay for our purchases very quickly. Just as it looks in Decathlon’s stores when we buy a t-shirt, a ball, a beverage or a snack. Let’s imagine how smooth a general purchasing process could be if there were more such places. RFID technology opens new opportunities for inventory and product withdrawal processes as it streamlines and simplifies them a lot. Therefore future-oriented packaging and label manufacturers should consider implementing printing presses equipped with special modules for applying RFID tags and labels online, during a printing process. Mark Andy has offered this kind of equipment for many years."
RFID in Decathlon Stores: Benefits from Implementation
In the beginning of the project, Decathlon chose one of its own brands to tag all its products and track their delivery to the company’s distribution centers and stores worldwide. Soon the RFID-based tags and labels were implemented on almost every product offered by Decathlon globally. “Currently every customer benefits from this implementation,” Sobierska underlines. She continues to describe that the “Payment process is much more simple than before. When a customer is looking for a product on the shelf, we can help him in identifying it much quicker. On the other hand, when buying online, in our web store, a customer can be sure that he fills shopping cart only with the products actually available”.
“Our employees are also very glad about RFID implementation. Due to it, we have significantly streamlined our inventories processes and electronic supervisory using security gates, as we call them. Tracking the whole lifecycle of all products also has become much simpler. Additionally, we can mark high-value products, delivered by external manufacturers, being an attractive option for possible theft. We are still testing new functionalities of this technology as its potential is limitless. Currently, we are checking more than 50 different, new options of RFID usage in our stores and warehouses. In one of our shops in Poland, a special kind of robot is being tested. It is used for inventory processes. Every night it rides between the shelves and checks all the products available on site. What’s interesting, RFID-based inventory process allows for checking 3000 different articles per hour. It is a huge time saving when comparing to earlier processes. RFID label gives us the certainty that the product comes from a particular country, so in case of a possible mistake, we do not have to pay the highest custom duties. It means huge global savings for the whole company, but also a bigger safety for our activities,” Sobierska explains.
RFID: Higher Sales, Effectiveness and More Efficient Work for Staff
Applying RFID labels during a manufacturing process increases sales productivity as Decathlon’s employees are free from a lot of manual operations and constant checking the deliveries. Therefore, they can be moved to other activities. “When completing orders for stores, the warehouse employees use special RFID pads which automatically check if the packed product is the right one. It also simplifies the whole process of order preparation. Generally, due to RFID implementation, our employees can be more involved in interaction with customers, spend more time with them, which is a big benefit for both sides. Most of our stores can control their stock several times quicker than previously when the whole process was manual. Besides that, we have increased the number of control actions, which has a positive impact on inventory management and delivery of products from warehouses to stores,” Sobierska details.
The above example of successful RFID implementation in Decathlon inspires other brands for similar actions but is also a reference to possible, future activities of printing companies and vendors. Moreover, Decathlon has its own advisory center, offering services covering RFID-related area. “It’s another proof of future direction and development,” Chruslinski says. He adds “A printing house that will invest in printing press enabling RFID tags and labels applying will have staying power beyond its competitors and prepare for new options which were a futuristic vision not so long ago. Now, this vision is becoming a reality. New technologies, like RFID, enable starting a co-operation with a brand owner, also active in a global scale, who can appreciate benefits from this technology and make a decision about implementing it in its labels and packaging.” Chruslinski concludes, “Here at Mark Andy, we will be happy to present our RFID-related solutions to everyone interested in this technology. We manufacture printing presses that enable producing labels with additional RFID functionality and are based on a technology that is more and more present in our daily life."