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RFID Adoption by Apparel Retailers Gains Momentum

American Apparel, in the United States, as well as Kaufauf, NP Collection and other European companies, are proving that the technology's benefits are just too big to be ignored.
By Mark Roberti
Mar 30, 2009I've been surprised, over the past two years, that apparel retailers were not moving more quickly to adopt radio frequency identification. But it seems this sector is now embracing RFID, and some leading early adopters are sharing the benefits they're achieving with the technology.

I'm not sure why RFID adoption took longer than I expected, because the technology is ideally suited to apparel retail for a couple of reasons. First, clothing is very RF-friendly—there are no issues with water and metal to work around. You can very easily achieve near-perfect read accuracy. Second, apparel retailers face bigger challenges than other retail companies when it comes to managing inventory. That's because they have many different products, each of which comes in a variety of styles, colors and sizes.

It's difficult, for instance, for employees to tell the difference between a small- and medium-size shirt, so a shelf could have 12 smalls and no mediums, and there would be no way to know unless someone physically checked. It's easier for employees at a mass-merchandise store to replenish missing items, because they just have to look at a shelf to see there are 12 eight-ounce bottles but no 12-ounce bottles.

RFID can help apparel retailers better manage their complex inventory. For those that sell their own brands and have goods made in Asia under their own label, they can have tags applied at the point of manufacture. Companies such as Avery Dennison offer services that now include printing and encoding hangtags with an embedded RFID transponder. When the goods are shipped, the quantities, styles and colors are verified by reading the tags, so the retailer knows it will receive what was ordered. This solves the problem of mis-shipments from Asia, which can lead to a loss of sales if an excess of one item were shipped, and write-offs if too many of another were sent.

RFID also dramatically reduces the cost of receiving goods into a warehouse and checking each item that arrives. When goods are picked from the warehouse, the technology can be used to automatically read each tag and verify that what is being shipped to the store is exactly what the store requested. Again, order accuracy improves while labor costs decline, because items can be read automatically and matched against orders.


James Wright 2009-04-01 06:46:04 AM
P/A - Warehouse Application Specialist Anyone considering RFID for apparel should read the feasibility study done by the Sam Walton School of Business at the University of Arkansas. This study done on RFID item level tagging for apparel and footwear. It is available by request from the following website. http://waltoncollege.uark.edu/faculty/search.asp?type=research&group=ITRI&letter=&id=&search=&page=1&action=n The paper would seem to indicate that RFID for apparel is not quite ready for all applications.

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