Omnichannel has changed the retail world in ways that many merchants can't even realize yet. For every giant like Amazon that has been able to navigate the still-murky waters of integrated inventory systems management, there are a hundred more that struggle to adapt.
It's these merchants that know all too well the troubles, financial and otherwise, that arise when a product needs to go from online to offline but no efficient way exists of knowing just how to do it.
Enter packaging materials firm Avery Dennison Retail Branding and Information Solutions (RBIS) and IoT platform developer EVRYTHNG, whose new partnership seeks to chase the admittedly ambitious goal of embedding trackable RFID sensors in "a minimum of 10 billion apparel and footwear products" by 2019. What sets RBIS and EVRYTHNG apart, though, is that these built-in IoT sensors aren't for consumer-facing NFC payments or fitness tracking but rather for the brands and retailers themselves to be able to monitor their products at every step of the supply chain.
It's the dawn of an age where the second a product rolls off the assembly line, it comes with an identifiable digital signature that can minimize the potential of loss, counterfeiting and even sustainability.
“The fact that at least 10 billion Avery Dennison RBIS products will be digitized at the point of manufacture is both a milestone in making the Internet of Things mainstream and a huge enabler for the apparel and footwear industry in particular," Niall Murphy, CEO and cofounder of EVRYTHNG, said in a statement.
Individual digital identities intrinsic to each distinct item might seem like a needlessly superfluous intervention made out of an excess of embeddable chips, but there is real value in securing an entire inventory's worth of products with trackable technology. Even though industry-wide rates for shrinkage are declining, the growing importance of omnichannel operations and the integrated inventory management required to known exactly what products are available through which platforms makes a bottom-up approach to tracking items more of a necessity than a frivolous gadget deployment.
In fact, the retailers that pooh-pooh as too onerous or time-consuming the idea of an inventory-wide IoT tracking initiative might be just the ones who desperately need such an intervention themselves. In an interview with MPD CEO Karen Webster, Intel Vice President of the Internet of Things Group and General Manager of the Retail Solutions Division Joe Jensen explained that the explosion of data and all the available ways to collect and catalog it has given some less-than-tech-savvy merchants a form of data fatigue. Without knowing which analytics to look at or which dashboards to pay attention to, important information gets lost in the fray of data points of no consequence.
“From their perspective, they already have more data than they know how to get value from," Jensen told Webster.
But proper application of the Internet of Things doesn't have to mean connecting every dumb device to a wider smart network. Especially for apparel and footwear, a simple location marker can be enough to help fatigued retailers make sense of their inventory systems split across brick-and-mortar stores and warehouses meant for distribution toward digital sales. Of course, there are other, more sophisticated ways of ensuring that products are where retailers think they are, but for the relatively luddite merchants out there, assigning one digital identity to each individual product may be a labor- and cost-intensive yet ultimately foolproof way of ensuring that IoT inventory has not sprouted legs and walked out on its own.
And even if it has — whether through benign misplacement by retail employees or intentional ticket-switching by unscrupulous shoppers — bottom-up IoT inventory management can be a massive help for any retailer concerned about the bottom line.