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How Blockchain for Business Benefits Stores and Supply Chains

Blockchain is moving from buzzword to business reality as startups focus on supply chain applications, and one company imagines a solution that combines blockchain, RFID and Internet of Things (IoT) to transform retail operations.

SophiaTX out of Slovakia just got a major endorsement from Ernst & Young, which is collaborating with the startup on a supply chain management solution for the automotive industry with blockchain at its core. Though its whitepaper references a supply chain application for pharmaceuticals, it’s not such a leap to see how the emphasis on traceability, security and authentication translates into the complex, globe-spanning supply chains of the apparel industry. SophiaTX conducted a proof of concept with SAP, whose ERP system is deployed in many large enterprises. According to a Core Communique article, SophiaTX is developing its own ERP, POS and IoT products, which would be integrated into the blockchain for smaller and mid-sized clients with fewer resources to build their own blockchain-enabled applications.

Another company is using blockchain to improve the logistics side of the business. Marine Transport International (MTI) is working with Black Swan Data Ltd. to develop COMSHIP, a blockchain-enabled bespoke software platform for shipping and logistics companies. According to MTI, COMSHIP leverages fintech and smart contracts to help customers more quickly execute bill of lading documents.

What’s more, MTI’s SOLASVGM also leverages blockchain to reduce the costs that ocean shippers face with verified gross mass (VGM) requirements. Jody Cleworth, MTI CEO, said, “The shipping industry is starting to realize the benefits of digitization, but there’s still a lot to be done.”

Perhaps most intriguing is Waltonchain, a startup that believes integrating blockchain with IoT will create an even greater value proposition for businesses in the form of Value Internet of Things (VIoT), which is made even more compelling through use with RFID technology. Vertically integrated Chinese apparel retailer TRIES, which operates more than 2,000 stores across the country, tested Waltonchain’s RFID-meets-IoT-meets-blockchain system. The company wanted to address a number of operational challenges, such as its reliance on barcodes, which damage easily. Plus, TRIES was dissatisfied with the subpar accuracy of its magnetic-stripe anti-theft devices and other store management issues, in addition to the all-too-familiar burden of inventory management and auditing.

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Waltonchain’s next-gen RFID powers what it refers to as a “smart retail management system,” which analyzes customer behavior to direct product positioning in real-time to lift sales and inventory turnover. What’s more, the system incorporates smart hangers—part of a “display management solution”—that puts forth product information, like style, color, size, price and more, on a nearby screen in addition to uploading these behavioral insights to a server for aggregation and analysis. According to Waltonchain, “Through software analysis and statistics, we can get the clothing pick-up rate and know which smart hangers attract customers’ attention most.”

Also featured in the smart retail management system are a smart mirror than enables virtual apparel try-on as well as smart fitting rooms, which allow customers to see stock information for items they’re trying on and call an assistant to bring additional products as needed. Plus, RFID-tagged apparel accelerates the checkout process, as tags must only be in the readable range to be read simultaneously.

According to Waltonchain, apparel retailers can also lean on its “RFID multisystem” to improve security while creating a more efficient checkpoint for incoming inventory, helping companies to “avoid repeated investments.” What’s more, Waltonchain references the “programmability” of blockchain 2.0 as a significant development, coupled with the technology’s notable “consensus mechanism.”

“Now according to various business demands, [blockchain} can create more precise smart contracts,” Waltonchain noted.

Overall, though blockchain remains an emerging technology, companies are actively investigating its potential and applicability to real business problems. When integrated with other powerful systems, blockchain truly could transform not just supply chains but brick-and-mortar retail operations.