Retail Worlds Q&A: Dean Frew, chief technology officer, SML Group

Dean Frew, chief technology officer at the SML Group, talks to Retail Systems about his career and views on the industry.

How did you get into the sector?

I was part of the standards development at MIT in the early 2000s. From there I started a company with the aim of delivering item-level RFID solutions for retailers and brands owners, changing the way they manage their inventory.

How long have you been in your current role and what have been the highlights so far?

I was the founder and chief executive of Xterprise from 2002 to 2013. In 2013, the company was acquired by SML and I became the president of SML Intelligent Inventory Solutions (SML IIS), previously Xterprise. Two years later, I took on the role of chief technology office and senior vice president of RFID solutions at SML Group. In this role I’m responsible for all RFID technology within the group and the planning and logistics within the RFID solutions sector.

In terms of technology developments, what have you got planned for the next 12 months?

We continue to innovate in RFID on many levels. We see tag performance improving every 18 months and reader performance every three years.

We are seeing an increase in the use of robotics within retail - particularly doing stock counts - and we predict some robot rollout in retailers over the next two to three years as costs reduce.

Finally, we are seeing new use cases for using the technology in stores and distribution centres every month. We’ve strived to have an enterprise software platform that can add functionality easily by adding modules to support new use cases.

Would you say that the future of retail is mobile, online, physical stores or a mixture of all three?

It will be a mixture of all three for the apparel and footwear industries. Brands are built around customers touching and feeling products to have the full purchase experience.

When a customer gets comfortable with the look and feel of a product, they are much more inclined to purchase this online. I don’t expect to see this changing in major markets and with strong brands.

Over the next few years we’re likely to see commodity brands and products migrate to a higher percentage of online sales.

What has impressed you about one of your recent online or High Street shopping experiences?

Online, the most impressive thing for me in the US is to see the migration of big box stores move into leveraging their inventory to support a buy-online-pick-up-in-store model. This is going to hurt the sales of online retailers including the likes of Amazon as many of these consumer packaged goods items are cheaper through the large chains.

High street experiences are still driven by in-store experiences and I am always surprised when I see stores implementing a different strategy that makes them stand out from other retailers.

Who in the industry inspires you and why?

Chris Heys, RFID product owner at Tesco, has been a customer of SML for over four years now. Chris is what I call a pragmatic visionary. He exhibits a keen sense of what drives business values and what can be done with item-level RFID technology to optimise business processes.

What technology can’t you live without?

The obvious answer has to be my iPhone. Although, I have a log cabin high in the Rocky Mountains and, believe it or not, I have fibre broadband pulled there so I can operate quite efficiently and still enjoy some of the most majestic scenery in the world.

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