Heico Souman, Chief Architect at Suitsupply, led an engaging session at Manhattan Associates Momentum in Phoenix in May 2023. He shared how Suitsupply transformed its store operations and customer experience using Radio-Frequency Identification - or RFID technology - showing the use, benefits, opportunities, and next steps related to RFID in-store. He began with a history of the brand.
When Fokke de Jong started selling suits out of his dorm room in Amsterdam in the late '90s, he wasn’t planning on becoming the next Tom Ford—he just wanted to supply luxury suits at an affordable price. But he was so successful that around 2000, Suitsupply went from being his side hustle to a full-time gig.
Fokke sourced the best fabrics and production in Italy and grew the business by selling his wares online long before that was the norm. Suitsupply thrived on Fokke's unorthodox ideas, like when he opened his first physical shop by the side of a highway or goaded competition into suing him over ads.
By 2011, Suitsupply had grown beyond Holland, opening stores in cities like London, Milan, and New York. Today, they have over 150 locations worldwide. You can hear Fokke's incredible story on this podcast.
A true omnichannel retailer with 30% revenue from the web, 15% of their online sales were fulfilled from stores in 2009.
The accuracy of that inventory was unknown.
They had 9,500 monthly calls to customer service asking, “Where’s my stuff?” The problem was that the store associates often took the brunt of the anger and could only see the same information as the customer. They had to get full transparency of the process from what was in the warehouse to what was on the floor, the fitting rooms, and the tailor shop.
Ethan Chernofsky, SVP of Marketing at Placer.ai, comparing post-Covid to pre-Covid, once said, “Imagine playing quarterback in the middle of a snowstorm and being compared against another game that was played under a dome.” Suitsupply found itself blinded in the snowstorm, and Heico found the dome.
Heico was building the architecture at Suitsupply as needed to get better data. That led him to Manhattan Associates and their RFID program, which provided critical visibility into the location of products throughout the supply chain.
And before I go further, don’t believe that old wives' tale that wrapping foil around RFID stops the signal. Tin foil does not block RFID; it only prevents the information from being read long distances.
There is a learning curve you can avoid by noting these two RFID mistakes:
Metal cases stop RFID signals. This is important in-store design as it can be expensive to fix.
If you have areas that you don’t want to be counted as part of a more extensive scan, for example, your backroom, you can pad the walls with special paint to keep the signal in one area.
Heico reported they now enjoy 95% accuracy of stock, which enables a great customer experience, lower costs, and higher margins.
A few of his key takeaways were RFID implementation:
The store must be able to print new tags for in-store, returns, or broken tags.
Store personnel doesn’t worry about receiving or inventory as they scan.
If someone asks anyone where something is in the store, they scan with the “find it” feature and, acting like a tricorder, beeps to guide you to the location.
See this video of how an RFID scan works, then read more about this and other retail technologies in my blog about the store of the future.
What takes the most time to prepare and start up with RFID?
Tagging all products. This can add years, not weeks, to the process.
Figuring out how it will work, what it does, and what it has to do.
Connecting to all applications.
Integrating all applications: receiving, counting, locating, fulfillment, pickup, shipment, and warehouse.
McKinsey reports that the average cost of an RFID tag has fallen by 80 percent to about four cents in the last decade. As demonstrated by Suitsupply's transformation, the effort involved and the investment in the tags and software are a small price for RFID's significant advantages to inventory accuracy in retail.