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Product traceability and RFID technology at DECATHLON

Let's dive into the world of RFID and discover how it revolutionises product traceability, transforming the shopping experience to make it smoother.

Imagine a store where you can find products in the blink of an eye, where going through the checkouts is ultrafast and where items are protected against theft... This has been happening at DECATHLON since 2008, thanks to the "magic" of RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification). These are tiny tags that make our products unique and separately distinguishable. This way, you can access detailed information about them, such as their product number, price depending on their status, availability, etc. RFID readers in stores (and also throughout the whole DECATHLON value chain: in the factories, logistics…) then help to access this information remotely, without even having to handle the products.

But what can this technology be used for? How does it work? What are the benefits for a company? For its customers? Let's dive into the world of (all) these small tags.

Product traceability and RFID technology at DECATHLON

What is product traceability?

What if you could keep track of a DECATHLON product from its design to its use… and beyond! It is made possible by product traceability, a fascinating process that traces an item's entire history.
Traceability is much more than just the issue of physical movement because it encompasses the collection of crucial data: the origin of materials, manufacturing processes, and standards compliance ... Everything is documented to ensure quality, safety and transparency. DECATHLON has subsequently made traceability a fundamental pillar. Each product tells a story, a unique journey that builds trust and reinforces knowledge of the products that pass through our hands.

The technology used in product traceability

How does RFID improve traceability at DECATHLON?

The concept of product traceability and RFID are intimately linked.
RFID, or Radio Frequency Identification is a technology that lets you unitarily distinguish all products (and find all the data you want about them) using small, light, practical and discreet chips: RFID tags. This method uses radio waves that automatically identify objects.
In practice, when an RFID reader scans a tag, it activates it and allows it to reveal its secrets. The information integrated into the electronic chip is then transmitted to the reader, enabling complete product visibility.

DECATHLON ensures its products' traceability thanks to this invisible procession of radio waves and data. Each stage of the life cycle is subsequently documented, from the design to the sale by way of the logistics:a real digital passport.

The story of RFID at DECATHLON

2008: The first steps

It all started in France in 2008. At the time, the idea was to find a way to simplify stocktaking and improve its reliability. A method that would remain easy, practical, inexpensive and could be industrialised (helping to reduce tedious tasks for teammates). The idea behind this small electronic chip was born. The principle behind it is straightforward: it is fed energy from a specific reader to be able to communicate: providing its unique identifier. The tags can be read from up to a metre away, hundreds in a second and even through cardboard boxes.An unbeatable system for efficient stocktaking.

2014: RFID takes off

The gamble pays off. In 2014, RFID became a major pillar of DECATHLON's strategy. Its full-scale rollout across all processes, from manufacturing through to sales via logistics.
Incorporating RFID on products of varying shapes and materials was not without its challenges. The tags tended not to work particularly well on some items, such as those in contact with water or metal. DECATHLON teams demonstrated considerable imagination when faced with these constraints. They adapted packaging, redesigned products and found innovative solutions to fit the RFID tags in strategic places.
We had to make Nutritional products (that were aluminised) evolve with the aid of packaging that was just as protective but aluminium-free.
We did the same thing for badminton shuttlecocks, where we switched from aluminium to completely cardboard tubes.

2019: A world first

A historical milestone was achieved in 2019: 100 % of DECATHLON products now carry an RFID tag fitted as soon as they are manufactured in the factory. A world first in the retail industry!

In 2024

We have equipped all the retail brand entities worldwide (factories, warehouses, stores) with tools for reading RFID tags. There are close to 50,000 readers, mainly designed and produced by the company, spanning the entire value chain: from production until leaving the store.
Unlike competing technologies, RFID requires no external energy supply. RFID tags are "energy efficient", meaning they are activated by the radio waves emitted by an RFID reader. This choice is part of DECATHLON's environmental approach to reduce the technology's environmental impact.

Product traceability and RFID technology at DECATHLON

DECATHLON: RFID world leader

DECATHLON has established itself as a world leader in the field of RFID thanks to its full-scale deployment and mastery of the technology. The company has shown itself capable of rising to the technical and collaborative challenges to make it an actual driver of performance and innovation.
Decathlon had a significant worldwide market share when launching the RFID project.Today, it is an undisputed leader with a 360-degree RFID rollout and an unbeatable customer experience.

RFID in the future: everywhere, DECATHLON continues to accelerate

DECATHLON is constantly exploring new uses for this technology that allow traceability to be even more precise (facilitating processes linked to recycling, for example). A product could also be identified, recognised, and connected to your smartphone to recommend advice on how to use and care for it.

Products traceability and sustainable development

The role of traceability in the circular economy

RFID and product traceability are not just about simplifying stock management and offering customers even greater transparency. It today plays a crucial role in reducing the company's environmental impact by fully playing a part in the development of the circular economy, and, therefore, supporting sustainable development objectives.

• Greater transparency of environmental footprint : RFID already lets us follow our products' birth, and tomorrow allows us to keep track of recycling stages. It will let us precisely measure their carbon footprint by subsequently following each stage of our products' life cycle.It is crucial to have this level of detail to identify the areas of improvement and optimise manufacturing processes.

Facilitating recycling: Thanks to RFID, information about products' composition is instantly accessible and could facilitate sorting and recycling. The RFID tags, in particular, those integrated directly into the fabric's yarns, could enable recyclers to quickly and accurately identify the nature of the materials, subsequently optimising the process and quality of recycling.

More sustainable design and manufacturing : Analysis of data collected all along products' life cycle thanks to RFID is providing design teams with increasingly reliable information. It is useful, for example, for measuring product returns, understanding the major areas of environmental impact and identifying solutions to correct potential flaws.

RFID allows us to go beyond the carbon footprints presented by companies today. In fact, with more precise and detailed data collection on each product's environmental impact, by taking into account factors such as the origin of raw materials, modes of transport and manufacturing processes, carbon footprints will be more and more detailed.

As a bonus, it is now possible, thanks to increasingly precise data, to easily find points to improve.

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