Earlier this month RFID Journal published an article titled “One Small Retailer Abandons RFID,” in which Mark Roberti discusses Peltz Shoes’ adoption and abandonment of item-level RFID tracking. In an infantile industry, where most of the news we see is on the progression of the technology, something like this stands out from the media noise, and it’s worth taking a look at.
Peltz Shoes jumped on the item-level RFID train five years ago by tagging every box of shoes and, according to the company, saving 1,500 man-hours of labor. Sounds great, right? The results certainly mirror what we’ve heard from other retailers using item-level tracking. So why is this particular company ditching the technology?
One of the primary issues Peltz cites in their release is “…if an associate mistakenly puts the wrong label on a box, the inventory would not be counted correctly.” They go on to say that this mislabeling was causing unexpected labor costs because employees had to remove the incorrect tags and appropriately re-label each box. This absolutely sounds like a frustrating situation, but it also reveals a lot about why the company abandoned the technology.
Picture this: an ice cream truck service outfits all of their trucks with new refrigerators that reduce the energy costs needed to keep their ice cream cool. A week later the company is forced to order hundreds of pounds of additional ice cream because large amounts of their current stock melted in the new refrigerators. Upon inspection it is revealed that the ice cream melted because truck drivers failed to correctly close the doors. The company, upset because of the revenue loss, gets rid of the new refrigerators and goes back to the old models.
We’re not coming down on Peltz, merely pointing out that their press release, and their ditching of RFID, has less to do with the technology and everything to do with the people operating it or the software interface itself. If a tag is placed on the wrong box it won’t properly track the asset inside, no matter how perfect the tag is. That’s a problem because humans can’t be void of the process. Someone has to make sure tags are printed correctly, and then someone has to make sure they’re placed on the appropriate assets. A mistake there brings the entire system down.
As crippling as human error can be to this process, there are ways to mitigate the chance of catastrophe. For example, when we built the Odyssey software we knew that not every company operates in the same way. It would have been impossible to create a one-size-fits-all solution. So when we created Odyssey (and herein lies the value of the platform), we made sure that it was malleable enough to conform to the needs of each of our clients. That process begins by us taking a consultative approach to understanding where human error traps can occur for individual companies, solving the problem, then pushing that solution out to every client.
We like to look at the RFID space like the Wild, Wild West. It’s a brave new frontier populated not by experts, but pioneers. The technology is in a critical state of evolution, one that requires adopters to be involved. As we look at individual companies, figure out where their issues are occurring, and create solutions, we understand that there is value to those solutions for every other company. We believe that vigilant discovery and creation of solutions, shared with all of our clients, is the key to smooth operations within the RFID space. The cliché, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” fits nicely here because of course there will be speed bumps, but that doesn’t quell the usefulness of the technology.