Apparel Retailers Get RFID

By Mark Roberti

The VICS Item Level RFID Initiative's recent meeting and dinner revealed that great progress is being made toward the technology's adoption in retail apparel.


On Sunday, Jan. 15, I attended a meeting of the Voluntary Interindustry Commerce Solutions Association‘s VICS Item Level RFID Initiative (VILRI), in New York City, which was held in conjunction with the National Retail Federation‘s Big Show 2012 conference. VILRI is a group of end users, solutions providers and academics working to create standard ways of using radio frequency identification based on Electronic Product Code (EPC) standards within the retail apparel value chain. Nearly 100 people attended the meeting.

Cynthia DiPietrantonio, Jones Apparel‘s chief operations officer, described the progress made in the working groups as “astonishing.” I participated in the outreach and communications group, tasked with educating retailers and suppliers about both VILRI’s work and the value of employing radio frequency identification to track items from the time they are manufactured until the point of sale.

During the meeting, David Cromhout and Justin Patten, from the University of ArkansasRFID Research Center, updated members regarding the results of VILRI-sponsored research into the business case for apparel suppliers, which RFID Journal covered last month (see RFID Study Quantifies ROI for Apparel Suppliers). Representatives from Accenture updated the group about a survey of retailers and suppliers, conducted at VILRI’s behest, that suggests most are ready to adopt RFID. VILRI has also succeeded in getting speakers on the agenda of a wide variety of events held by relevant organizations, including NRF and the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA).

After the meeting, Joe Andraski, VICS’ CEO, hosted a dinner for CIOs at a number of retail chains, mostly focused on apparel. I’m unable to reveal who attended or what they said, as this was a private, off-the-record gathering, but I can say that most attendees were from companies that have not publicly announced RFID initiatives—though many indicated that they had launched pilots, or even small rollouts.

I asked the group if we could go around the room so that each participant could say what word enters their heads when they hear the term “RFID.” I expected to hear responses like “scary” or “futuristic,” but instead, I heard such replies as “transformational,” “promising” and “inevitable.”

It was encouraging and showed me that the technology has perhaps crossed a mental chasm—retailers no longer view RFID as something in the distant future. I did hear concerns about tag cost, integration challenges and competition with other technology projects, and that’s understandable. At least two companies, for example, were in the process of upgrading their back-end enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, so taking on RFID now would be impossible for them.

Everyone at the table had a sophisticated understanding of radio frequency identification. I heard two executives talking in great depth about strategies to integrate RFID data with back-end systems. (How to integrate RFID data with business applications is the cover story in the upcoming January/February issue of RFID Journal‘s print magazine.) There were also discussions about the challenges of tagging at distribution centers until more suppliers tag items at the factory level.

I left the dinner greatly encouraged. At events like this, I often hear knee-jerk skepticism from end users. But none of that was evident that evening. Instead, there was a lot of clear-eyed thinking about the benefits that RFID can deliver, and the tasks ahead to seize them.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark’s opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, the Editor’s Note archive or RFID Connect.