RFID Stakeholders

Make merchandise (digitally) available

Four key criteria to find the right stakeholders for a successful RFID implementation

By Tom Vieweger

January 28 2021

To successfully implement RFID in retail, ownership and dedication is crucial. No longer are RFID projects owned by one stakeholder or department in a silo. The world of shopping is changing fast and so are the internal stakeholders within retail organizations. 

Recently, during the virtual edition of NRF 2021: Retail's Big Show - Chapter One – the world’s largest event for retail technology, we hosted an ‘RFID Masters Panel Discussion’. We brought together experienced project managers from large scale RFID project rollouts (watch here) who shared their vision and best-practices.

One question from the audience really made me think. “Who are the stakeholders in an RFID retail implementation?” Reflexively I would have answered ‘Of course, retail ops, logistics & IT’. Then I realized that the makeup of project stakeholders has changed in the meantime. So, what are the changed characteristics of RFID projects that drove this? And which stakeholders are involved in such a program? 

Stores in the new normal

Retailers are transforming into digital omnichannel organizations. In the context of COVID-19-related measures, the adoption of ‘digital’ has accelerated. These developments brought a new way of thinking in many retail organizations. As consumers got used to virtual shopping and retailers are relying more on digital, the accelerated adoption of omnichannel is driving new shopping behaviours that will likely have a lasting impact.  

The pandemic has accelerated the shift away from physical stores to digital shopping by roughly five years

IBM, US Retail Index

 Good examples of this accelerated development are brands like Lululemon, Nike, or l’Oréal (read more). All of them are expecting a symbiosis of online and offline commerce. And to face the challenges brought about by these changes, retailers need two essential enablers: having the right data available, and the smart tools and systems to execute. 

With the use of RFID, we can access products at any point across our network, not just DCs, but at our stores as well as from ship-from-store

Calvin McDonald - Lululemon CEO

RFID adoption drivers and value propositions over the years

The major drivers for the adoption of RFID projects in the retail world have changed over the past years. It all started with the release of the EPC Gen2 standard in 2008. When the ‘Electronic Product Code’ (EPC) was born and the way of communication over the “air interface” was standardized, it unlocked technological benefits like bulk- and distance-reading of items: 

Key criteria to identify stakeholders in your organization

Just like with other major projects, RFID projects in retail organizations need a project owner. This is typically an individual or a department that sees the clear advantages of the technology. The project owner takes the lead in researching use cases, and vendors and initiating a trial to validate the business case.  

While it might sound obvious – it is essential to focus on the relationships that matter most when you go out there to find like-minded stakeholders within your company. Because if you involve everyone in your organization, you will have a long list in no time. But that’s a potential nightmare. So how do you produce a shorter, more coherent list?  

 A good starting point is to answer the following questions about each potential candidate. They will help you direct your department’s energy and resources to the right relationships and activities. The questions and examples are drawn from my years of experience working with a large variety of retail organizations. 

  1. Does the stakeholder have a fundamental impact on your organization’s performance? (Required response: yes.) 
  2. Can you clearly identify what you want from the stakeholder? (Required response: yes.) 
  3. Can you implement RFID without the stakeholder or easily replace the stakeholder? (Required response: no.) 
  4. Is the stakeholder an ‘enabler’ or a potential ‘sponsor’? 

 It is important to make it clear who is an enabler and who is a sponsor because each type of stakeholder requires a different approach. Consider if the department you want to get on board with your project will directly benefit from RFID or will be confronted with an additional workload. It helps to divide potential stakeholders into two groups to whittle your long list down to a shortlist. This will increase the efficiency and impact of your efforts to meet the right groups’ needs. 

Cross-functional collaboration with stakeholders

As we enter a new retail era, we see a shift in priorities with a clear focus on omnichannel services and correlated tools and capabilities such as stock visibility, order management, and mobile applications. Yet, retail organizations realize that they need more cross-functional collaboration, as  

  1. No single department can do everything by themselves,  
  2. RFID can bring many more advantages to other departments in the future and  
  3. Stakeholders can make it so much easier to ‘sell’ the project to the C-level. 

In our experience with various retailers, I have seen a number of different scenarios – breaking the typical silos as stated earlier. Here are some examples of the areas where stakeholders are coming from: 

The ultimate goal: make merchandise (digitally) available

For the last few years, and accelerated during the Corona-related lock-down period, there has been an ongoing adoption of omnichannel concepts. Retailers and brands increasingly recognize the critical role of inventory visibility for delivering on the omnichannel promise. This development highly impacts the role of stores. Store inventory is being used to fulfil the increased online demand, and customers want to quickly go in-and-out of the store to pick up an item they ordered online. 

RFID is the perfect tool to achieve a real-time view on stock levels and expand your distribution network by leveraging stores as mini fulfilment centres. The success of such deployments requires cross-functional stakeholder involvement. This way, it's a team effort and beneficial for more than just one department.  And it will impact the entire retail organization in a positive way. 

Tom Vieweger
RFID business expert
Tom Vieweger