Can Item-Level RFID Pay For Itself By Cutting Theft? Well, Sort Of

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According to American Apparel, item-level RFID can pay for itself by cutting employee theft. The 285-store chain's VP of Technology, Stacey Shulman, told RFID Journal that in stores using RFID for inventory accuracy, internal shrinkage has dropped by an average of 55 percent. (The chain started by putting RFID in 50 of its stores with the highest shrinkage rates.) As a result, the savings covers the deployment cost. Of course, that's something of an accounting trick. Deploy any surveillance technology in a store with lots of employee theft and some thieves will get nervous and stop stealing—for a while.

Shrinkage drops, and IT can declare that RFID's ROI is 100 percent. Then, by the time the thieves start stealing again, it's hard to argue with item-level RFID's other benefits in better accuracy and faster replenishment, which is why Macy's is pushing item-level RFID hard. Besides, the theft rate might never return to its original levels, right? It's also wise to remember that the only retail people who care about ROI are the people can say "no": your CFO's team. And for IT projects, they check ROI once. So if it looks like thefts have been avoided, you get the credit. And given that the team won't check again in four months, you'll likely never get dinged if the reductions were short-lived. Short attention spans can be your friends.

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