M&S ready to start national roll-out of item-level RFID

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M&S ready to start national roll-out of item-level RFID

Will Hadfield

Marks & Spencer is planning to deploy item-level radio frequency identification (RFID) tags at almost all its clothing stores after successfully trialling the technology in selected stores last year.

The decision to roll out RFID, which will increase the number of stores using the tags from 42 to 120 by spring next year, was confirmed by the retailer last week as it reported sales for the six months to the end of September of £3.9bn, up 11% on the same period a year ago.

James Stafford, head of RFID at the company, said it was the work put in by the retailer over the past 10 months that had enabled the expansion.

Marks & Spencer started its item-level RFID trial at the beginning of the year when its spring/summer clothing ranges came into stores.

Two months ago the retailer announced that it had extended the item-level trial to include its autumn/winter clothing range. By extending the project for a second fashion season, Marks & Spencer almost doubled the number of tagged items, from 25 million to 49 million.

Marks & Spencer chief executive Stuart Rose said, “RFID had to sit slightly on the sidelines while other things took priority. I am personally very keen on RFID, particularly in high-value items such as suits.”

The item-level tags enable staff to carry out in-store stocktakes more quickly and more frequently than in the past. Employees sweep handheld devices along rows of clothes to find out what sizes, styles and colours need replacing.

Individual stores have reported improvements in sales from using RFID during the spring/summer trial, although Marks & Spencer has always refused to say how far the better availability of stock has resulted in greater sales.

Some 15 suppliers working in 20 countries tag every item in six clothing departments: men’s suits, men’s trousers, men’s jackets, women’s casual trousers, women’s skirts and women’s suits.

Rose said, “We are rolling out RFID to a number of other departments too. I think RFID is here to stay.”

Marks & Spencer is also looking at tagging the pallets and roll cages used by its clothing business so that it can keep track of goods as they move through the supply chain.

It wants to save money by reducing the number of pallets or roll cages that get lost or delayed.

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