Levi's RFID pilot seeks near 100% inventory visibility

Levi Strauss & Co. is collaborating with Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) to develop a proof of concept involving radio frequency identification that provides nearly 100 percent visibility into inventory in near real time.

Levi first piloted RFID in 2004 in a few stores in Mexico, but is now using the technology in 67 stores for point of sale, receiving and inventory accuracy, according to RFID 24-7. The pilot of near real-time visibility into store inventory has been running in a San Francisco store at Levi's headquarters since the spring, RFID Journal reported last week. The technology is expected to reduce the time workers spend managing inventory.

"We're interested in technology that is going to improve and enhance the consumer experience in our stores," said Noah Treshnell, senior VP of retail and global retail capabilities for Levi Strauss Americas, in an Intel video. "We're bringing that to life through inventory accuracy and inventory visibility. So when a consumer comes into our stores to find what they want in terms of the product, they find it in their size, on the shelf, and it's available."

Secondly, he said, "we are looking to empower the people who work in our stores with the right tools to deliver superior service to our consumer." 

The RFID-based Intel Retail Sensor Platform is designed to make RFID deployments easier, while enabling inventory tracking in real time, RFID Journal reported. The system includes ultra-high frequency RFID readers with integrated antennas that are wired to an Intel Gateway device, which forwards data to a server. The platform also has an Intel application programming interface to allow RFID systems integrators to write software that links RFID data to a store's software.

"The heart of what we are doing here is investing in technology and partnering with Intel to bring it to life," Treshnell said. "It's about taking the information to inform better current and future business decisions. It ultimately benefits the consumer in our stores."

Intel installed about 21 readers complying with the EPC Gen 2 standard at the pilot store, as well as an Intel Gateway device. Smartrac provided the software to integrate the reader data with the retailer's back-end software.

"Our heritage at Smartrac is taking simple items and connecting them to the internet," said Leonard Nelson, director of product development at Smartrac Technologies, in the video. "Through our cloud platform, we are able to take the sensory data from the smart sensor network and pull that into the cloud. We take that data and those events and we translate them into insight and information. That insight goes to the executive team at Levi Strauss, it goes to the store stylists, and it goes to the supply chain."

Intel's Retail Sensor Platform in this store is made with Intel's Core i7 processor. The Retail Sensor Platform is about 34 to 40 percent faster and easier to install than a traditional reader and antenna deployment, said Daniel Gutwein, director of retail analytics for Intel's Retail Solutions Division.

In the pilot, the Intel Retail Sensor Platform was able to provide nearly 100 percent inventory accuracy within a few days of activation. Gutwein said that the store management knows about all inventory in the store, when it moves, and in what direction. The managers have the data to track what products are taken to fitting rooms and which ones are tried on. Then, that information can be compared to point-of-sale data.

Working with solution integrators, Intel plans to launch additional pilot tests in stores operated by other retailers, he said. The company is taking orders for readers that are expected to ship in March 2016.

For more:
-See this Intel video
-See this RFID 24-7 article
-See this RFID Journal article

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