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Apparel Retailers Test RFID-enhanced EAS Hard Tags

Three clothing-store operators will use Retailers Advantage's Intelligent a3tag, which combines traditional electronic article surveillance technology with EPC Gen 2 RFID inlays, to track inventory and reduce shrinkage.
By Claire Swedberg
The second retailer—a jeans store in Toronto—will employ the system to identify each item sold. In this case, when a hard tag is attached to the items in the store, the stock-keeping unit (SKU), as well as a description of the item—such as the clothing's style, size and color—is entered and stored in the software, along with the unique ID number encoded to the hard tag's RFID inlay. In that way, each item can be specifically tracked, so that management knows which items have been sold. If the system operates well, the store plans to expand the deployment to its other locations across Canada.

In the case of the third retailer (a U.K.-based department store), the software will also be used in a manner similar to that of the Canadian jeans retailer, tracking items by linking the ID number encoded to a hard tag's RFID inlay to data about the garment to which it is attached. In this case, the store will also take advantage of the Intelligent a3tag's far-field (long-range) RFID functionality. The store will use handheld RFID interrogators to read the Intelligent a3tag's RFID inlay when the EAS hard tag is first attached to an item in the back room, and then again on the sales floor, for the purpose of taking inventory. Initially, the store is attaching Intelligent a3tags only to garments in one of its departments, where it also plans to install fixed EPC Gen 2 UHF RFID readers, to track when an article of clothing is placed on the sales floor, and when it is taken out of that department.

Barry predicts that for end users, a return on investment in the hardware, software and installation will be achieved in three to six months. In the near future, she adds, it is likely that several of the company's other customers using its non-RFID a3tag EAS hard tags would begin testing the Intelligent version, along with UHF readers.

Joshua Bamfield, the director of the Centre for Retail Research, in England, and the author of the annual Global Retail Theft Barometer, says that the 2010 edition of that report "confirms previous findings that U.S. retailers perceive dishonest employees as being a far greater problem than shoplifting." Employees, he adds, are responsible for 43.7 percent of shrinkage, totaling $17.2 billion. "What is unknown, of course, is the extent to which employee theft involves collusion with shoplifters, or acting with groups to rob retail businesses."

Retailers Advantage is not the first company to offer hard tags or security labels combining traditional EAS technology with radio frequency identification. In 2007, Checkpoint Systems unveiled labels incorporating an 8.2 MHz RF antitheft inlay and an EPC Gen 2 RFID inlay (see Checkpoint Combines EAS Tags With RFID). And in 2008, LC Waikiki, a clothing retailer operating in Eastern Europe, rolled out a system involving hard tags that combines EPC Gen 2 RFID and acousto-magnetic EAS technologies (see Turkish Retailer Uses Hybrid EAS-RFID Tags to Stop Theft, Improve Inventory Management).

Alan Sherman, Checkpoint Systems' director of marketing for merchandise visibility solutions, sees value in the growing number of RFID anti-theft applications, such as this one, for the retail market. "We are beginning to see more retailers looking at the confluence of the visibility that RFID provides," he states, "to optimize inventory and enhance loss-prevention capabilities. This is an exciting opportunity for retailers to gain multiple benefits."

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