RetailNext’s New Venture Tracks Products, Not People

The newly formed Acuitas Digital Alliance's first project can tell retailers how customers are interacting with products — like which ones are being picked up first and which are being put back.

In late January, several tech, retail, and analytics companies including RetailNext, SATO Global Solutions, BT, and Intel, announced the formation of Acuitas Digital Alliance to design tech-focused programs for retailers, from manufacturing all the way down to the storefront. The first of those products is BT’s In-Store Visibility program, unveiled at NRF’s Big Show, an RFID based platform that tags every product in a store so that their locations can be tracked as they move around the floor.

While many in-store uses of location technology focus on how customers move around a physical store, tracking the inventory allows for a better understanding of how consumer and product interact, says RetailNext’s head of corporate development Kindra Tatarsky Whether a certain product is being picked up at the beginning of a shopping trip, or brought to the fitting room before being put back, all can be seen through RFID enabled inventory.

Tatarsky hopes that by looking at location data at a new angle, inventory-focused rather than consumer-focused, eventually the two can coincide, providing a powerful new location tool. The product is in beta testing now, but it will be available globally once launched.

GeoMarketing: Why is inventory visibility important to retailers?

Kindra Tatarsky: I always look at everything from the customer point of view. All of this is meant to improve the customer experience. For a shopper’s perspective, if they’re shopping, they’re looking for something. If that something, that piece of inventory, is not there or the proper size or color is not there, that affects the experience. You’re left unsatisfied and you’re not able to accomplish what you set out to do which is to go in and hopefully buy something new that you really like. From the retailer’s perspective, they spend an inordinate amount of time making sure that product is in the right place, tracking it, reporting it back and still yet there are pieces that get lost. They’re trying to service the customer, they’re trying to check the amount, they’re trying to keep the store organized.

There are many things that they’ve got to do to make sure the stores are operationally efficient. With RFID Enabled Inventory, they’re able to much more quickly do things like dynamic planograms. With the fixed readers in the ceiling, no longer do you have to take pictures or scan them with handheld RFID readers. Instead, you can look at the inventory from a dynamic view. The second thing is the fitting room dynamics. There’s a couple of elements there. One, if shoppers are consistently taking item x to the fitting room but it never makes it to the checkout, there’s probably something wrong with that item.

Fit, color, price, etc. That’s where the RetailNext solution is complementary to the RFID Inventory Piece. We can tell where the shopper goes, where they stop, where they engage. With the RFID Piece, we can now tell did they pick that up or did they not? Lack of evidence of the inventory moving, you know they’ve engaged with the item but they didn’t pick it up. Either the touch is wrong, the feel of the product, the color, or more likely the price. If that’s consistently happening then you’d probably want to take a closer look at why is this not selling? You’ll probably want to mark it down if it’s not even making it to the fitting room.

So it gives you a better view of how customers are interacting with products. If they go up to it and they walk away, that’s one problem. If they pick it up, take it to the dressing room and then put it back, that’s a different problem.

Yes. You’re able to layer on that final piece. Today we can look at the shopper and we can look at the sales associate. With the RFID Enabled Inventory we can also look at the inventory.

Those three things are what need to happen: The inventory has to be there, the shopper needs to be engaging with it, the sales associate needs to be helping. When you combine data about all three of those pieces, there’s a much better answer to why something isn’t selling. Either it’s too expensive, the fit’s wrong, there wasn’t enough stock on hand to replenish it, etc. When you put the three together, it becomes much more powerful.

That’s a great analytic use of it. On the store experience and how … I feel like when you’re talking about a connected storefront, that the tendency would be to how can you connect with the customers better? It’s interesting that you’re connecting the store with its own products first and having the customer benefit be a result of that. If that makes sense.

Is there any option to help customers find what they’re looking for? Or is it purely back end for employees to find things and for analytics?

After the fixed readers pull the data up, there are a couple of different applications that can be consumer facing. One is the fitting room application. If the app reads that you’ve taken three items into a fitting room, the application can show the consumer here are the garments you chose, maybe with a deeper dive on the specifications of what they are. Maybe recommendations of things that will go well with it or, even better, if you’ve got a detailed list of what that shopper’s purchased in the past, you can say “that green blouse would go beautifully with those black pants of which you have five pairs in your closet.”

We can tell from previous interactions that you bought five pairs of black pants from us. It’s a great up-sell tool. It’s also a great tool for the sales associate augmenter or amplifier because you can, as a shopper, say I need size two in that instead of a size four that I brought in. You’re able to ask for that directly from the application and that shoots information to the sales associate. It saves the shopper the embarrassment of having to find them and ask for it. Then it also saves them the hassle of the waiting time so it’s much faster for the sales associate to be able to service that shopper.

A goal of the project was to make the in-store experience line up better with online store experiences. What are some other ways retailers can do that?

If you think about the online experience, we’re able to see what shoppers do all the way down to purchase. Where do they click to? Where do they dwell? How long is that dwell on that page? What goes in the shopping cart? What doesn’t? What do they abandon? All of those different metrics.

We’ve always been able to look at the shopper, the shopper experience, and what their path is. Mirroring that, what’s the path that you take online? Now we’re able to, with more specificity and more definition, say, “This the product that they’ve now engaged with. This is what they’ve put into their ‘basket’ and this is what they’ve taken out of their basket if they tried it on.”

I mean if anything, I would argue you actually get a better experience in-store because if you think about the online dynamics right now, so many retailers are losing money from their returns because they don’t have that ‘try on’ feature. By enabling those stores with all of the technology and the analytics available, they’re actually able to have potentially a more profitable experience than what you would have online if there’s a higher return rate.

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Daniel Parisi Daniel Parisi @daniel_parisi_

Daniel Parisi is a New York City-based writer and recent graduate of the University of Maryland. Daniel specializes in coverage of mobile payments, loyalty programs, and the Internet of Things.