Smart is the new big: is data your best friend or worst enemy?
5 real-time insights brands and retailers wouldn’t have Without an EPCIS repository
By Tom Vieweger
By Tom Vieweger
Today’s order fulfilment operations may have inventory located in countless spots along the supply chain: in the warehouse or DC, on trucks in transit, on the store shelves or in the stockroom, etc. Ensuring that all of that inventory is appropriately accounted for and reflected in the stock ledger is critical to running a successful operation.
For an agile order fulfilment from any channel in a highly distributed supply network to be truly effective and successful, you must have a clear and accurate understanding of your inventory. As consumers just want to shop anywhere, anytime and do not really distinguish in channels, it’s important for brands and retailers to ensure a cohesive and seamless customer experience.
Having RFID in place means you can seamlessly collect data from various read-points, wherever the status of an item changes. This makes an EPCIS repository effectively the ‘Single Point of Truth’ (SPoT) about the actual situation of stock in the company (or even across enterprises) and the ideal starting point for corresponding analytics. To take a closer look into different options of insights and smart analytics utilizing data from EPCIS I have teamed up with my colleague Dennis Muller who works as a Business Intelligence Specialist and Data Analyst for Nedap Retail.
Reporting and analytics are essential to any retailer because this tells you exactly what’s going on in your business. Analyzing your data correctly enables you to make well-informed decisions around things like merchandise planning, promotions and staffing. However, having too much data (or worse — looking at the wrong information) can lead to mishaps, overwhelm, and give a lot of business headaches.
Comparing the ‘scan-pack verification’ from source with the ‘inbound verification’ during distribution in order to identify under-deliveries or other errors. Typically, the total quantity of products within boxes is correct, however, there are differences in item level – which can lead to out-of-stock situations for certain sizes and colours. Also, you can identify products that have been registered when they left the producer but never arrived in the DC – this helps to find “gaps” within the supply and transportation network.
If you register all outgoing products on a unique item level as well as each unit’s destination, you can later find out if the products have been distributed into the right (valid) channel or if they have been resold to any kind of grey market.
The verification of all outgoing shipments ensures that every unit that is shipped to customers is correct. That is not only to reduce (unnecessary) return transportation costs but also keeps customers happy.
If there are ‘never out-of-stock' products that are available across multiple seasons it is impossible to distinguish which products came in first. If you want to ensure a ‘First In, First Out' principle, serialized product data and the real-time information from the EPCIS can help to identify the actual age of those items.
Looking at low stock reports on a regular basis can also enable you to spot patterns around which products are constantly running low. If a particular item is always showing on this report, for instance, that could indicate the need to increase your order quantities.
An EPCIS repository allows retailers and brands to exchange their stock information easily. If, for example, a brand-owner is selling in a store of a retail chain, the EPCIS repository provides real-time information about the stock. Consequently, this unified view of product availability across all channels can provide great benefits - let's look into three use cases:
Brand owners want to know where their merchandise is, while a retailer wants to know if the products are genuine. And finally, customers want to know if the product they bought is authentic and where it came from. With RFID, a so-called digital identity, and access to its tracking data in the EPCIS, brands and retailers share full visibility about the lifecycle and the status of a product.
The EPCIS enables brands and retailers to pool all item-level tracking data together on a single shared platform so that data can be evaluated and communicated as required. This is the basis to provide information about a product's provenance and unlocks use cases like brand authentication and grey market identification. Still, it can also be used to provide a "sustainability pedigree."
For the last 15 years, brands and retailers were already working on collaborative planning forecasting and replenishment (CPFR) initiatives. They are sharing sales and inventory data over so-called electronic data interchange (EDI) processes. However, this "one-to-one" communication is slow, error-prone, and requires a lot of (manual) data clearing. Furthermore, it does not provide insights into sublocation-level or unique item-level data. This is where EPCIS enhances the concept of vendor managed inventory to its level 2.0:
Customers do not only expect to view in-store inventory online; they also want to order or reserve their desired products immediately. So, combining the stock information between retailers and brands aims on the one hand to provide instantaneous insights into what products are available, and on the other hand, how, where, and when the customer can get them.
As part of a seamless shopping experience, today's consumers consider easy returns as an inevitable service. And just as shoppers now expect flexible fulfilment options, they also demand the same experience and options when returning a product. An EPCIS allows to accept returns at any location, offer partial or full returns, and get the item back into inventory as soon as possible.
For data-driven brands and retailers, an EPCIS repository in combination with RFID on item-level will add another level of information about the actual stock situation along the entire supply chain. Keeping track of stock movements and status changes in real-time is especially important within a complex supply chain where products are regularly shipped between multiple warehouses, distribution centres, and stores. Creating true and comprehensive stock visibility simply enables a demand-driven allocation, predictive replenishment and stock transfers to the location where products are really needed. And finally, this will enable brands and retailers to make their customers happy.