How Do RFID Readers and Tags Communicate?

Published: July 2, 2018

Luxury department store chain Saks Fifth Avenue is stepping up its use of radio frequency identification this summer, with plans to commence item-level tagging for most product categories by the first quarter of 2015. As a result, a number of product suppliers are now in the process of acquiring the proper RFID labels, which they are beginning to affix to their products, if they are not already doing so. Tagging will initially be performed, in many cases, by suppliers at the distribution center level, but during the coming months, the companies are expected to be tagging goods further upstream, at the point of manufacture. In that way, some suppliers may also leverage the tags to collect supply chain data regarding their products from the time they are manufactured.

A year ago, Saks launched its initial RFID deployment to test the technology in the shoe department of its New York City flagship store on Fifth Avenue (see Saks’ RFID Deployment Ensures Thousands of Shoes Are on Display). This rollout followed a pilot conducted in 2012.

Last month, Saks Fifth Avenue issued new RFID implementation guidelines to suppliers of women’s, men’s and children’s clothing, as well as sweaters, dress shirts, underwear, swimwear, ties, hats, handbags and other accessories, in addition to home and gift items, bedding, and beauty and fragrance products. The new guidelines will result in those suppliers tagging most merchandise destined for all 100-plus Saks Fifth Avenue stores. As explained in the the guidelines, the rollout begins with the retailer’s private-label garments in August. This will be followed by men’s basics and dress shirts, as well as men’s and women’s denim, in October, with most men’s, women’s and children’s apparel and accessories tagged by February 2015.

According to the guidelines, Saks is also in the process of assessing the practicality of tagging such items as jewelry, cosmetics, fragrances, shoes, handbags, and home and gift items. The retailer has declined to comment for this story.

Suppliers are expected to begin integrating EPC Gen 2 passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID inlays into the UPC hangtags or stickers that they normally attach to their products. An alternative option is a non-integrated hangtag, also known as a companion tag, consisting of a separate RFID hangtag or sticker that can be affixed near or on the UPC ticket.

Saks is directing its suppliers to Auburn University’s RFID Lab and GS1‘s specifications regarding Electronic Product Code (EPC) inlays. The guidelines indicate that product suppliers must use RFID inlays tested and approved by the RFID Lab for the Spec M performance category, which lists a variety of EPC Gen 2 passive UHF inlays from Alien Technology, Avery Dennison, C&C, Checkpoint Systems, Hangzhous Century Link Technology, Invengo, Laxcen, LSIS, Smartrac, SML, Tageos, Trace-Tech ID Solutions and Xindeco. Each inlay must be encoded with an EPC serialized number stored in a tag to uniquely identify a particular product. The EPC is a combination of a company’s GS1 prefix, an item reference and a Serialized Global Trade Item Number (SGTIN). The EPC can be assigned by an approved outsource.

The guidelines list four companies as being approved sources of RFID-integrated hangtags or stickers: Avery Dennison, FineLine Technologies, R-Pac International and SML USA Inc. GS1 is listed in the Saks implementation guide as a source of information for vendors seeking to begin tagging their products.

Tyco confirms that Saks is using its TrueVUE Store Performance software platform that includes the RFID company’s Display Execution application. The application links display read data on handheld readers with inventory data, and alerts users to which samples are missing from display shelves. Tyco has also declined to discuss the expansion for this story.

SML Group is providing its RFID-integrated labels, supplemental hangtags and stickers to Saks Fifth Avenue’s parent company, the Hudson’s Bay Group, as well as to Saks and Lord & Taylor (also owned by Hudson’s Bay Group). SML’s RFID inlays include the GB1 with a built-in Impinj Monza 5 chip. SML Group is also working with Saks’ suppliers to help them understand their tagging options, and is sending sample packs of RFID hangtags and stickers to help these companies evaluate their options.

In its supplier guidelines, Saks indicates that “RFID is a proven, game-changing technology with numerous uses and benefits that provides greater visibility into our in-store inventory at any given moment.” The company cites the value of employing RFID to monitor inventory levels on the sales floor in order to prevent out-of-stock events. Saks also intends to use the technology “to enhance the omni-channel experience we offer our customers, so they have even greater access to the inventory in our stores, whether they are shopping in-store or online.”

FineLine Technologies offers RFID-integrated labels. The company’s Fast Track Web-based ordering system is designed to deliver tags to users within 48 hours.