Under Armour: RFID Is a ‘Must Have’

During a session with two other retailers at NRF’s Big Show 2020, the athletic apparel company stressed that radio frequency identification technology is critical for retailers.

By guest author Mark Roberti from RFID Journal

Radio frequency identification is essential technology for Under Armour moving forward. That was the message Kathleen Joyce, Under Armour’s lead for global inventory control, delivered during a panel discussion sponsored by Nedap Retail at the National Retail Federation (NRF)’s Big Show (see The View from NRF’s Big Show 2020 and RFID at NRF’s Big Show 2020).

“We don’t really see this as a ‘nice to have’,” Joyce stated during the panel discussion. “It’s really a ‘must have’ to get you to the next level. We know it’s coming, and we are on board. We want to make sure we do it the right way. Our global partners are excited about it. Everyone sees the value in it. It’s just a question of laying the right foundation.”

Joyce said the company’s supply chain executives spearheaded the RFID effort. Under Armour began source-tagging all clothing for the fall-winter season, she noted, and the retail function within the company has now taken over and is leading the project. According to Joyce, that managing change is critical to an RFID rollout’s success. “[RFID] isn’t a project. It is a pillar for operations moving forward. Your leadership from the top down—your district managers, store managers, VP of operations—have to drill that in so that the store managers are sharing that point of view with store associates, day in and day out.”

Under Armour is focused on the applications for RFID in retail, Joyce explained, in order to improve inventory accuracy and visibility. “We are making sure we are setting our systems and people up for success,” she continued. “It is an operational transformation discussion at our organization. When you think about all the data RIFD delivers, we can see if something is on the floor or in the back of the house. We can see how long items are sitting in the back of the house. A lot of ideas are coming out of the woodwork. We are looking at what we can do with this new level of visibility. How do we make store associates’ jobs easier—and how do we make the customer experience better?”

Also on the panel was Nate Peterson, the VP of supply chain at Outdoor Voices, a recreational apparel retailer operating 11 stores (see RFID Helps Bring Outdoor Voices to Shoppers on the Move). “We’re a smaller brand,” he told attendees. “We’re using [RFID] as a competitive advantage. We’re focused on customer acquisition and customer retention.”

Petersen said the company deployed the solution at all of its stores last year. “We were struggling with having a high degree of inventory accuracy,” he explained. “We approached it as a solution to boost confidence in our inventory counts. We knew we weren’t doing the best we could, and we knew this was the solution.”

Sophie Ecobichon, the VP of finance at French retailer Celio, said her company originally adopted RFID in 2018 to improve inventory accuracy, and that the technology has since delivered a “huge improvement” (see RFID Tracks Goods at 750 French Menswear Stores). The firm now wants to use RFID inventory data to improve “click and collect” (also known as “buy online, pickup in store,” or BOPIS). “The difficulty,” Ecobichon explained, “is that we don’t have real-time inventory on our website. Our goal is to get this everywhere in the company and available on the website. It will be easier for staff to fulfil the order.”

The session’s moderator was Jeroen Struycken, Nedap Retail’s VP of business development. Struycken asked the panellists to offer advice for retailers in the audience, and Ecobichon replied, “You don’t have to waste time on ROI [return on investment]. It should be a conviction.” Peterson added, “Go big, go early and go fast—that is our motto.”