The apparel chain modernized its warehouse employee RF equipment to help e-commerce order pickers fulfill orders quickly.

American Eagle Outfitters overhauled its warehouse picking technology to increase its employees’ picking speed per hour for peak season, Paige Marvin, director of distribution and operations applications, told attendees at the 2018 Manhattan Momentum conference in May in Florida.

American Eagle’s distribution centers fulfill both online orders and replenish store inventory, and the apparel retail chain wanted to modernize the technology that its warehouse employees use to fulfill online orders. At peak season, or the fourth quarter, the apparel retail chain has about 250 employees picking direct-to-consumer orders in each of its two U.S. distribution centers, Marvin said. The retailer kicked off this project in January 2017 to prepare for Q4 2017.

The RF—or Radio Frequency—devices the employees used were old, Marvin said. The devices were heavy, generally uncomfortable for employees to use, slow moving from screen to screen, plus required a long training period, which was not ideal for the quick hiring and training process necessary for the holiday season.

The retailer wanted to get away from the outdated look of a black screen with green text to something that looked friendlier for users, she said. At first, the retailer leaned toward using iPods because those were devices that employees were already comfortable using from their everyday lives, she says. Marvin, however, quickly learned that the iOS route would not be the best as those devices are not created for industrial use, and the service infrastructure and software would be a challenge, she said.

American Eagle had its distribution center employees test about 10 RF devices for three to four weeks. The retailer solicited feedback from both its best and worst performing employees to determine how effective the equipment was.

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After American Eagle picked a new device, it rolled them out in August to September in small groups of about 10 at a time to monitor any kinks, such as IT security and impact on its Wi-Fi network, she said.

Overall, there were no major problems with the deployment during the peak season, Marvin says, which she points to as a success.

“We really did not have issues,” she said. “The work we did all year allowed us to roll out for peak.”

The new devices are overall faster, such as time spent moving from screen to screen, with fewer reboots, Marvin said. This allows employees to be more productive because they are not waiting for their device to catch up. The battery life is much improved compared with the previous devices, she said. Plus, it only takes a few days to train employees on the devices, which makes staffing ramp-ups at the holidays easier.

In general, employees pick about 110 units per hour, she said. While Marvin does not have any hard numbers about how much that has increased with the new units, she is confident that employees are fulfilling orders faster.

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For employees, the screen is easier to read, the functionality of the buttons is more user friendly and it’s more comfortable and lightweight, Marvin said.

Marvin was pleased with the project overall. Because employees test drove the devices before the retailer deployed them, employees already had buy-in to the change.

In hindsight, Marvin wishes she embarked on the project six months earlier to get more time to vet the devices and have the devices deployed with more buffer time before Q4.

American Eagle is No. 64 in the Internet Retailer 2018 Top 1000.

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