Over the past few months, the pandemic has exposed supply-chain weaknesses across virtually all industries, sectors and companies. Many companies have struggled to adapt to recent large-scale changes in consumer demand and consumption as stay-at-home orders have led to an increase in e-commerce. As companies and stores began to pivot to match this behavior, many realized they were digitally unequipped — lacking the complete visibility needed throughout their operations to build a flexible e-commerce fulfillment model. However, for companies who have invested in RAIN RFID to improve supply-chain visibility and inventory management, the road to recovery looks a lot smoother.
Some of the most exciting technologies emerging in the supply-chain space today are the sensor technologies that extend the internet of things (IoT) beyond devices to connect more “things.” These “things” include containers, pallets and boxes through to individual items, extending the IoT ecosystem into the supply chain. RAIN RFID, a battery-free wireless technology, is helping to connect more of these items by providing accurate real-time data as they move through the supply chain. RAIN RFID’s unique capabilities enable thousands of items to be identified in seconds, at a distance and without line-of-sight. It doesn’t require any batteries to operate, can last indefinitely, and can identify each item uniquely with cryptographic item authentication.
One of the sectors that has been most heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic has been the retail industry, which has seen a drastic shift to online shopping. We have seen that the most successful retailers have been the ones who had begun the digitization of their supply-chain process prior to the pandemic, specifically adopting technology that provided visibility into inventory across their supply chain and stores. Retailers who hadn’t already invested in a strong digital infrastructure prior to COVID-19 have been least prepared to react to the rapidly changing business environment, resulting in wasted time, money and resources as they have struggled to shift operations.
However, companies who already began implementing RAIN RFID prior to the pandemic have been better equipped to adapt and handle the drastic shifts in demand. For example, at the end of March, Lululemon stated that existing investments in RAIN RFID systems had enabled the company to take a flexible approach to e-commerce fulfillment, allowing it to adapt quickly with little problem.
With the long-term impact on customer demand still to be seen, it is not too late for companies to start looking at technology integrations that can not only boost their supply chain, but provide additional benefits that will be helpful post-COVID as well. The insights and visibility provided by RAIN RFID enable other forms of IoT integrations such as automation and end user tracking. Through automation, businesses can have a more accurate view of the inventory across the store floor, the warehouse and even shipping and fulfillment centers without the need for employees to manually track. This gives employees the room to focus on more important customer-centric tasks like fulfilling orders.
Both in-store and online, we’ve seen a vast amount of inventory go stale or sit unused in one location during the stay-at-home orders. Companies can implement a RAIN RFID solution that will help with store order fulfillment, buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) and curbside pickup, preparing them for the likely ongoing shift in consumer behavior in a post-COVID world. RAIN RFID helps provide retailers with detailed insights into inventory levels, location and demand so they can always find the right item at the right time and meet increasingly complex order fulfilment needs. It also helps ensure consumers can track their orders in real time, which has the long-term positive impact of helping to build customer loyalty through improved customer service, trust and transparency.
With stores across the country reopening, as we continue to shift to a “new normal,” RAIN RFID is also helping support new technologies for social distancing, and reducing physical interactions with and between employees. For example, RAIN RFID-based automated checkout systems allow customers to go touch-free, ringing up multiple items simultaneously without the need to scan each one individually. This reduces customer time spent at checkout, interaction in public spaces, and contact between customers and staff. New RAIN RFID-enabled solutions are also being introduced to drive movement intelligence, to encourage social distancing and allow for a better flow of people in public places. This is gaining momentum within retail and we’re seeing a number of new and innovative ways RAIN RFID is being used to limit the amount of contact and interactions.
While the long-term impact of COVID-19 on customer demand remains to be seen, it is not too late for companies to start looking at technology integrations that can boost their supply chain. Many of the world’s leading companies are taking the opportunity to invest more in their digital infrastructure in order to reduce costs, gain more visibility into their inventory, streamline their supply-chain logistics and provide a better overall experience for their customers. As a result, many are turning to RAIN RFID to help them on the road to recovery and ensure they are prepared for any future shifts in consumer demand.
Gaylene Meyer is vice president of global marketing and communications at Impinj.
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