In nearly every category of retail, the pandemic has led to investments in technology advancing, in many cases, by several years with companies making strides to digitize and align with a “new normal.” For many, the need to gain heightened visibility became vital in understanding overall operations from supply chain to final sale — a goal that is entirely possible with enhanced, organized systems in place.

“It can uncover the source of supply disruptions, identify capacity constraints and discover other factors undermining the productivity and effectiveness of the entire system. When everything in a system is connected, that system can be seen in a new way,” said Gaylene Meyer, vice president of global marketing and communications at RAIN RFID company, Impinj. “When package tracking data is combined with other relevant data, modeling can inform how to further streamline systems by optimizing resources and processes. Doing this well is more important now than ever, with on-going disruptions to shipping and supply chains caused by COVID-19.”

Here, Meyer talks to WWD about increasing visibility, new needs in the market, and how technology like RAIN RFID helped Lululemon to enable digital initiatives during the pandemic.

WWD: How has RFID inventory tracking technology become vital for retailers during the pandemic?

Gaylene Meyer: It’s always been important for retailers to have visibility into their supply chain, to see disruptions and to react quickly. But the pandemic has impacted both global supply chains and consumer demand — bringing new and complex challenges to retail operations.

As retailers rightly focus on navigating the economic disruption and keeping employees and customers safe, they need systems that allow their teams to respond with agility. RAIN RFID systems make it easier than ever for companies to access highly accurate data quickly to ensure smooth operations and meet customer expectations. RAIN RFID is a type of RFID that can identify each item uniquely, scan up to 1,000 items per second from a distance of up to 30 feet. And RAIN RFID tags need no batteries, last indefinitely, and cost just pennies.

When a RAIN RFID tag is attached to retail inventory, the retailer can gain visibility to that inventory from its source of manufacturing, throughout the supply chain, distribution centers, stock rooms and sales floors. And as shopping moves from in-store to online or curbside pickup, retailers need visibility into inventory so they can fulfill orders from merchandise in stores. These trends were happening before the pandemic, but what’s happening now is, clearly, a dramatic change. Prior to the pandemic, nearly all retailers were operating an online channel, and many offered some version of click-and-collect but today customers are expecting curbside pickup. Inventory visibility is necessary to be able to promise items at a particular location, and then verify that the order prepared was correct.

We have seen retailers, like Nike and Zara, who have already adopted RAIN RFID be able to quickly pivot because of the inventory visibility they have. RAIN RFID has provided inventory visibility that has allowed them to know exactly what they have and where so they can react to changing demand and, for example, use inventory in stores to fulfill online orders.

Gaylene Meyer

Gaylene Meyer, vice president of global marketing and communications at Impinj. 

WWD: How is Impinj different from other IoT/RFID companies in the market?

G.M.: Typically when people think of IoT they think of powered devices. But, at Impinj, we see the potential to expand the Internet’s reach by 1000x by connecting unpowered devices. The Impinj vision is for boundless IoT with trillions of everyday things — such as apparel, automobile parts, luggage and shipments — connected to the cloud. Today, businesses can connect to — and engage with — some of the things that matter to them but not all. The Impinj platform provides a foundation for wirelessly connecting any physical item to the cloud.

Our global partner network uses our platform to help retailers, manufacturers and logistics providers enable digital transformation within their organizations. To date, Impinj has enabled connectivity for over 40-billion things helping businesses gain visibility, operations support, touch-free automation and virtualization.

WWD: Impinj is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, how has the company evolved?  

G.M.: This year, we brought to market new tag chip and reader products to meet the increasing demand for item connectivity in the retail, grocery, consumer packaged goods and logistics markets. Our newest chips provide advanced features that enable new uses including loss prevention with automated checkout and are so small that roughly 30 million of them will fit in a single coffee cup! And our new reader is specifically designed to meet the demands of enterprises who need powerful edge processing for next-generation IoT solutions. These products are just the beginning of a new wave of technology performance improvements and new features/capabilities over the coming months and years.

WWD: How did Impinj work with Lululemon to increase inventory visibility during the pandemic?

G.M.: As a Lululemon customer myself, I have made use of their pick-up-at-store feature when shopping at their online store. It’s great, and from what I understand from my experience and others, is that Lululemon has very accurate data on each store’s inventory enabled by RAIN RFID.

We are seeing top retail companies talking about their investments in RAIN RFID as core to enabling their digital initiatives and successful performance. You’ll find comments in this year’s earnings reports from companies like Inditex, Nike and Lululemon that tie their investments in RAIN RFID as a key enabler that allowed them to pivot their supply chains and fulfillment of customer demand as this pandemic caused disruption in 2020.

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