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Apparel & Footwear Summit Attracts Wide Audience
Retailers and manufacturers from around the world shared experiences and discussed challenges at RFID Journal's Apparel & Footwear Summit.
Aug 18, 2006—"RFID will be a good-news story for your company," James Stafford, head of RFID for UK department store Marks & Spencer (M&S), told attendees of RFID Journal's first Apparel & Footwear Summit on Wednesday, which it co-presented with the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) at New York City's Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). "RFID will be good news for your customers, too. And even if you don't use RFID, it'll be good news—but for your competitors, not for you."
He went on to explain the steps Mark & Spencer has taken toward rolling out its current item-level RFID apparel tracking trial for inventory control, which it is now conducting at 42 of its stores. Stafford was joined by 15 other retailers, manufacturers and RFID technology vendors who shared information on the state of current RFID technology trials and rollouts within the apparel and footwear industries. The goal of the event was for end users to help the more than 200 attendees understand how they can benefit by using RFID within various parts of their operations by describing the steps they took toward deploying the technology and the lessons learned along the way.
Presentations and conversations throughout the daylong conference and preconference forums revolved around four main themes: consumer privacy, RFID applications, tag standards and tag cost.
Of all industries that are currently testing and deploying RFID technology today, the apparel and footwear industry has received the most attention and negative publicity from privacy advocacy groups, led by Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering (CASPIAN). CASPIAN has launched grassroots campaigns that criticize clothing manufactures and retailers testing RFID to track products at the item level. The groups worry that these companies, as well as government entities, will one day use RFID tags for surveillance, infringing on consumers' privacy and civil liberties.
Mary Howell, conference cochair and AAFA vice president of industry relations, said that AAFA members should band together to establish industry-wide policies regarding consumer privacy protections and RFID. She said the AAFA wants to help its member companies that test and/or deploy RFID to inform and educate consumers about RFID in a consistent, industry-wide voice. Another person speaking at the event was Uwe Quiede, RFID project manager for German department store Galeria Kaufhof, part of the Metro Group chain of retailers. Galeria Kaufhof conducted an item-level RFID tracking pilot with one of its women's fashion manufacturers, Quiede said, and in order to inform consumers about how and why it is testing and deploying RFID at the item level, Metro Group has worked with both EPCglobal in Germany and privacy advocacy groups, including CASPIAN, to distribute educational materials.
Marks & Spenser has also addressed privacy concerns through communications programs and pamphlet distribution. "You don't solve privacy issues with technical solutions," he told the crowd, "you need to talk to [consumers] and find out what their real concerns are. It's about trust. No technology will work if you don't have trust [from your customers]."
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