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It gets said a lot – “the customer is always right”. Today, more customers than ever are browsing for goods online. Initially concerns arose over whether online shopping would make real stores obsolete. But, customers surprised the prognosticators.

Many customers are buying online, and then picking up what they bought at the store. In fact, 50% of Walmart’s online sales are picked up in stores. Online sales isn’t really killing the brick and mortar store. Instead, customers are looking at online stores and real stores differently than previously thought.

For customers, this has made shopping much easier. Finding exactly what you want online is easier than searching for goods at a store. There’s no waiting in line when you buy the item online, or when you pick it up in store.

But, for retailers, this sort of shopping poses major challenges. With the ability to buy online/pick up in store, customers have increased their purchasing expectations. 71% of consumers expect to view in-store inventory online. So, when they go to the store, it better be there. And, 50% of customers expect retail sales associates to be able to get product and inventory information from a mobile device. So, if the item is there, the associate needs to be able to find it fast. For retail executives, this data paints a very clear picture. Inventory needs to be much more accurate, and it needs to be as up to date as possible. Yet, only 1/3 of retailers offer in store pickup.

The other major challenge is to make sure what is offered online is in the store available for pick up. However, retailers can only sync their online store with their inventory once a day. This problem is certainly understandable. But as we mentioned, the customer’s expectations have increased. Today, inaccurate inventory can crush a retailer in more ways than ever before.

Call it a perfect storm, or call it fate. But, this is exactly what many knew was coming for retailers and manufacturers. The prediction of RFID as the next big thing in retail arose from the thought that tracking items would become more necessary in the age of the internet.

As an outgrowth of the digital age, online shopping now commands a much larger percentage of retail revenue – a number which rises each year. Now, some retailers are scaling back their brick and mortar operations. Gap closed 250 stores in 2014. and Walmart stores are 1/3 smaller than they were 5 years ago. Yet, 50% of Walmart’s online shopping is fulfilled by in store pick up.

Online stores are not directly in competition with their brick and mortar counterparts. Actually, the two are intertwined closer than ever before. This fact points directly to a need to unify a retail operation’s supply chain, inventory and product tracking. This is where RFID technology will fit in the modern age of retail.