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A Guide to RFID Apparel Retail Solutions

Tagging and tracking items can help clothing merchandisers better manage inventory, improve on-shelf availability and reap other benefits to boost the bottom line. Here's what you need to know to choose the best solution for your company.
By Jennifer Zaino
Apr 01, 2011—In the past few years, there have been many developments involving radio frequency identification and the apparel retail industry. Clothing merchandisers—including American Apparel in the United States, Charles Vögele in Switzerland and Throttleman in Portugal—have been using RFID technology to better manage store inventories and improve on-shelf availability. At the same time, studies, including those by the University of Arkansas' RFID Research Center, have documented the business benefits item-level tagging can deliver to apparel retailers.

In July, Wal-Mart announced that it was working with suppliers of men's jeans and basics (socks, undershirts and underwear) to track these items using ultrahigh-frequency RFID tags with Electronic Product Codes. And in November, Voluntary Interindustry Commerce Solutions (VICS) and standards groups GS1 US and GS1 Canada announced the launch of the Item Level RFID Initiative, which brings together apparel manufacturers and retailers—including Conair, Dillard's, JCPenney, Jockey, Jones Apparel, Levi Straus, Macy's, VF Corp. and Wal-Mart—to develop a roadmap for the adoption of RFID at the item level.

These advancements have been made possible, in part, by technology developments. "The readers have improved on the hardware side, the middleware from a software standpoint has improved in terms of processing those reads, and the tags themselves have improved and gotten cheaper," says Casey Chroust, executive VP, retail operations, at the Retail Industry Leaders' Association (RILA), and a member of the VICS board of directors.

Development of item-level retail solutions is also making it easier for apparel retailers to deploy RFID technology and get value from the data collected. Checkpoint Systems, which acquired OATSystems, offers a turnkey system that includes hardware, software and services. Other vendors, such as Overheer Systems, Truecount—a company launched in October by Zander Livingston, who played a key role in American Apparel's RFID deployment—and Xterprise, focus on software, but partner with hardware vendors to deliver a complete solution to retailers. The solution providers offer different deployment models, including on-premise installations, and hosted and cloud models.
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