A global sportswear brand has just completed a project with retail RFID specialists, Detego, to introduce “smart” fitting rooms in hundreds of stores. The retailer has added digitally connected touchscreens in its fitting rooms to allow customers to browse through collections and request staff bring other sizes without having to leave and battle through the shopfloor. Staff wearing iWatches are immediately alerted to bring any requested items - including an image of the desired article and where to find it - thanks to every article being tagged and monitored using fixed RFID (radio frequency identity) readers.
“Not that many people enjoy the fitting room experience, which is quite a concern given that it can make or break a sale,” says Uwe Hennig, CEO at Detego. “But that’s about to change: with the rise of connected devices and the internet of things, fitting rooms are destined to get a whole lot better and smarter.”
The retailer said it originally decided to add RFID labels to over 80 million items of clothing and footwear to achieve near 100% inventory accuracy, instead of the industry-wide average of about 75% to 80% for fashion retail. Another major objective was to improve levels of customer service and the availability of products: in a study, it found that the most common complaint among customers was sizes not being available in stores. Other earmarked concerns were service being too slow, or there not being enough sales assistants.
“Staff often don’t know where goods are. Most retailers rely on data that’s inaccurate and too old. Last week’s sales and stock data simply isn’t good enough,” says Hennig.
Smart fitting rooms, equipped with wall-mounted tablet computers, connect to the inventory-management system the retailer uses to keep track of stock in real time. With every item tagged at source in the factory and through a network of 250 suppliers around the world, RFID tracking means knowing exactly where any article is, from warehouse to shelf, the company explained:
“RFID is used for receiving and checking goods as they arrive in stores, to monitor stock movements and for automated replenishment, so we can be sure exactly what’s on the shopfloor and fulfil our merchandise plan, in real time, all the time.”
Trials showed stock-takes being six times shorter using RFID and the ability to read up to 200 tags a second. It also saw a sales uplift of nearly five percent due to higher stock accuracy, and on-floor availability increasing to almost a hundred percent. Other operational efficiencies were recorded too, including faster checkouts and heightened security measures, with labels doubling up as security tags which are automatically deactivated at the checkout after purchase.
Following the success of the initial RFID project, the next development to help improve customer service was the introduction of wearable technologies for staff, as well as smart fitting rooms with interactive screens to make it easier for customers to request other available sizes and styles.
“The smart fitting room and IoT in retail helps merge online and physical shopping,” says Hennig.
An in-built recommendations engine in Detego’s software - not unlike those typically used by online retailers to push more products based on analysing browsing history - can display and promote on a screen in the fitting room other recommended articles to complement an outfit. For instance, it might flag up other matching items in a range, or use a caption and image to say that “other people that bought this shirt also liked these tops.”
The real-time stock data in the system ensures that the item is definitely available in any particular store. The analytical aspect also means being able to get more detailed information on the movement and popularity of certain lines: for instance, what’s often tried on, but not always bought; or common missing sizes. This was clearly very useful in flagging up any potential sizing, fit or availability issues.
“Fixed readers mean that you can split up a store into different zones and see the exact movement of goods,” says Dr. Michael Goller, CTO at Detego. “And alerts on wearables worn by staff can tell them when to replace missing items on the shelves.”
To measure the popularity of new season launches in some of its larger stores, the retailer even tested cameras and RFID readers to gauge the number of people stopping to browse new collections, or take articles to fitting rooms.
“The digital revolution continues to influence the way we buy as more and more people shop online. With the rise of ecommerce, retailers have been trying to make their store locations operate more like the web. To compete, bricks-and-mortar retailers are introducing more digital technology into stores and offering a more personalised shopping experience,” says Goller.
The future may see results improve further as Detego explores a self-checkout feature that allows shoppers to purchase goods directly from the fitting room simply by waving their phones in front of a screen. If an item isn’t available, with the smart fitting room application a customer can access the retailer’s website with just a few taps, purchase it, and have it delivered.