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Major Retailers, Industry Groups Launch Item-Level RFID Guidelines Initiative

VICS, GS1 Canada and GS1 US, as well as retailers, goods manufacturers and other retail associations, have teamed up to create the Item Level RFID Initiative, in order to provide recommendations for EPC tagging on the item level, to be used by retailers and their suppliers.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 01, 2010A group of North America's leading retail industry members—including stores and manufacturers—as well as retail and RFID associations, have teamed up to begin writing road maps and guidelines for RFID usage at the item level in the retail sector. The Item Level RFID Initiative, under the guidance of supply chain efficiency association Voluntary Interindustry Commerce Solutions (VICS) and standards groups GS1 US and GS1 Canada, is being compared by the initiative's members with work done in previous decades that made bar-code and electronic data interchange (EDI) technologies ubiquitous in the retail market.

The group's goal is to provide a set of guidelines that will enable retailers, manufacturers, suppliers and logistics providers (initially in the apparel industry, and eventually in other sectors as well, such as general merchandise) to deploy an RFID system using the Electronic Product Code (EPC) standard that is compatible with other members of the supply chain, as well as of the retail industry. In this way, the group hopes to head off incompatibility issues, such as suppliers being asked to use different RFID tag-data specifications for different stores.

GS1 Canada's Art Smith
As part of its efforts, the initiative will provide detailed recommendations, including how to go about encoding tags, what data to store and how to train employees to work with radio frequency identification. Early next year, the group will provide specifics regarding which guidelines will be made public, and when. These recommendations will come from several working groups that will focus on different use cases of RFID technology, including security, point of sale and inventory tracking. The initiative's members consist of retailers, suppliers, industry associations, technology providers, academia and goods manufacturers, such as Levi Strauss, Jockey and VF Jeanswear.

"The significance in this announcement is that there really never has been a call to action by the retail industry before," says Art Smith, GS1 Canada's CEO. "Now, they [members of the retail industry] are saying, it looks like this technology is ready for prime time."

About three years ago, VICS first began researching RFID. To that end, the organization worked with the University of Arkansas' RFID Research Center, which helped carry out pilots involving the use of item-level RFID tags on products with such retailers as Dillard's, Bloomingdale's, JCPenney and American Apparel (see Bloomingdale's Tests Item-Level RFID and Dillard's, U. of Ark. Study Quantifies RFID's Superiority to Manual Inventory Counts). While working on those projects, says Joseph Andraski, VICS' president and CEO, VICS found that item-level tagging offered the greatest benefit (as opposed to tagging cartons or pallets) for the apparel industry. The pilots involving the University of Arkansas, he adds, proved the technology offered a return on investment (ROI), by making each item more visible, thereby improving the store's inventory accuracy and replenishment. "RFID offers the industry the ability to have visibility," he states, "and be significantly more productive."

Another pilot that helped to prove the effectiveness of RFID technology at the item level was the Bloomingdale's division of Macy's, in a store located in SoHo, N.Y. Inventory accuracy at that location is up to 95 percent since the RFID system was implemented, according to Peter Longo, the president of Macy's logistics and operations, who is also the co-chair of the Item Level RFID Initiative. The group's other co-chair is Cynthia DiPietrantonio, the chief operations officer for apparel and footwear designing and marketing firm The Jones Group.

Using the results from those pilots as a template, the Item Level RFID Initiative group is now creating smaller working groups to develop specific sets of guidelines. The Getting Started workgroup, for example, will be responsible for creating other working groups that might provide recommendations regarding how to encode a tag, or how to transition a store's sales staff, operations staff and logistics department to item-level RFID tagging. Initially, guidelines will be offered for specific categories within the apparel sector, though it has yet to be determined what those categories will be.


Regiane Romano 2010-12-01 01:49:02 PM
Groups Item-Level RFID Guidelines Initiative Hello from Brazil! I´m studing this technology for almost 12 years. My focus is item level at retail stores. I´m doing my PhD about it and I´d love to help in this initiative. I´m doing a study case, here in Brazil. Is it possible? Best regards Regiane Relva Romano

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