RFID Technology in Textile and Clothing Supply Chain Management

RFID Technology in Fashion and Textile Supply Chain Management

Shubham Anil Jain
Department of Textiles (Fashion Technology)
DKTE’S Textile & Engineering Institute, Ichalkaranji, India
Intern at Textile Learner
Email: shubhamajain125@gmail.com

 

Introduction
In today’s scenario, we see that the technological innovations are being taking place very quickly and because of it there is big challenge to retailers, suppliers and enterprises of many businesses. Due to the introduction and advancement of new technologies there is enhancement of innovative approach to manage businesses. One of the most trending and latest field which has taken rapid growth in the last 30 years is Information Technology (IT) and one of the most promising technological innovations in IT has been Radio Frequency Identification abbreviated as RFID. It has become an inherent part of many organizations in supply chain management, retail, automatic toll collection, animal tracking, ski lift access, library book tracking, etc. By the help of RFID, companies can become more competitive in market by changing the speed and accuracy of related processes in supply chain, logistics, manufacturing and retailing.

rfid tag in retail cloth store
Figure 1: RFID tag scanning in retail cloth store

RFID technology is simply based on wireless communication, which uses electromagnetic fields for automatic identification of an object, an animal or a person carrying RFID tags. Currently RFID technology has become more popular and been rapidly adopted by many industries, including fashion and textile. In the field of fashion and textile, RFID technology is considered as blessing of technological innovation, which has been used in various processes such has manufacturing, warehousing, distribution, logistics, automatic object tracking, and many more. Many well known manufacturer and retailers such as CVS, Tesco, Prada, Benetten, Wal-Mart are using this technology to explore their business.

What are Benefits of RFID Technology in Fashion and Textile Supply Chains (FTSC)?

Following are the benefits of RFID technology in fashion and textile supply chains:

1. Increased information sharing:
With the help of these RFID technologies, there is improvement in the interaction between the different departments within a company, as well as between supply chain partners.

2. Tracking and traceability shipping:
With the RFID tracking and tracing of the product can be done which ensures the quality management and continuous quality improvement.

3. Increased competition:
Due to competitive enhancement companies need to keep up with new technologies and concepts to face market conditions and RFID is considered as a good solution to improve supply chain efficiency.

Benefits of RFID Technology for Retail Industry
Figure 2: Benefits of RFID Technology for Retail Industry

4. Distribution centre (DC) operations: 
RFID tags can be used to increase cycle counting in terms of speed and accuracy and also have a very positive impact on pick/ pack operations.

5. High sales and margins:
Due to RFID technology there is very good accuracy in inventory management, which leads to more sales at full price and fewer markdowns which is very important.

6. Theft prevention:
This technology at the item level serves as an anti-theft system. This may also be useful in protecting the introduction of false trade throughout the supply chain.

7. Handling efficiency:
The main advantage of RFID is that, it allows the automatic identification of product and containers without the need of a line of-sight between the reader and tag, unlike with barcodes.

8. Offer customized attention to client:
The stores that have taken care of adding the information through the customer cards with the information provided by the RFID tags of the product purchased by customers, can better understand the requirements of the customer and provide services according to their taste.

Why RFID is Necessary for a Retail Fashion House?

Using RFID technology in retail presents whole assets of benefits and opportunities for stores. As well as it enhance the shopping experience for customers too. From improving stock control, management and optimizing inventory purchases to boost sales and reducing holding costs, RFID asset tracking tools have a positive impact throughout the workplace.

1. To Track Retail Assets:
Marks and Spencer are UK retailers who were among the early adopters of RFID tools back in 2001 and still rely on the same technology today itself. They had recently taken part in a research project which shows a boost in sales of up to 5.5% when using RFID tracking solutions. Because of it there is a reduction in stock holding, lost and stolen inventory, and staff costs.

By tagging products and stock with RFID tags, it has become beneficial to staff to automatically track inventory and stock levels while minimizing the risk of loss and theft. In a retail environment, for individual products on shelves and for moveable assets the RFID tracking can be used.

RFID tracking uses radio waves to read and transfer data from small chips (RFID tags) to a reader who is equipped with an antenna. The RFID reader then transmits that data to a tracking system where it is stored, checked, and actioned. Here reader can be anything from an employee mobile device to a system-specific hand-held scanner.

Working of RFID Technology
Figure 3: Working of RFID Technology

2. Improving Stock Control and Minimizing Out-of-Stock Situations:
These tracking tools can be used for a various purpose; one that is particularly useful for retailers is to achieve higher visibility of the supply chain from manufacturing to distribution. It gives a proper idea of where stock is located and when it is available. We scan hundreds of assets at one time by using RFID technology as opposed to a more manual approach such as Barcoding, where items need to be scanned one by one.

Therefore it allows for quick and easy stock checks that would otherwise take many days to complete; ensuring shelves are refill when needed. In one of the case study that featured 10 industry leaders, have proved that inventory accuracy of retailers rose from 65-75% to 93-99% with the introduction of RFID asset tracking systems. Stock control is crucial for today’s retail stores, so much that 80% of consumers say they’re less likely to visit a store if the retailer’s website doesn’t provide real-time stock availability. But, that’s where an RFID asset tracking system shine and give solution over it.

Improvement in key retail metrics before and after RFID adoption (%)
Figure 4: Improvement in key retail metrics before and after RFID adoption (%)

3. Enhance the Shopping Experience:
One of the most innovative developments in the use of RFID is its potential for changing the way customers browse and shop for products in top-heavy stores. Retailers like Tesco, are now using ‘scan as you shop’ technologies to reduce checkout friction. Making the experience more seamless for customers. So RFID technology can become a game-changer in the way ‘scan and shop’ works. Another creative use of RFID in retail is interactive fitting room mirrors. These smart mirrors are able to identify products, through RFID tags, and automatically co-ordinate with a tracking system to provide real-time product data such as stock and size availability.

What are the Applications of RFID in Fashion Retail?

1. In fashion show:
The latest innovations of RFID system is RFID wristbands. It has been used at many concerts to prevent the use of bogus or false tickets. This technology is now starting to be used at many fashion shows to improve security. Here each band is attached with a unique tag that identifies each attendee’s identity, because of these the event managers have full access and control and insight in real time about who is attending the show.

2. Counterfeit prevention:
In the fashion and textile industry there has been rapid growth of counterfeit products. Because of the technological advancements it is easy to copy any brand’s logo and reproduce the same. Hence, counterfeit products are sold at higher prices and fail to meet consumer requirements and satisfaction. So here DNA or genetic markers and microtaggants are the most important application of RFID in fashion retail. With DNA markers, botanical plants DNA are inserted in the finished goods. The plant DNA is unique and can to help to identify the authentic product from the counterfeit. For example, the fashion brand Gucci has adopted a number of steps to prevent misleading of product. Gucci uses a digital certificate card integrated with an RFID chip because of which the customers can check the authenticity of the products by using a mobile or social media device.

3. Customer behavior and product mixture:
An RFID system is used by retailers to learn about their customers’ behavior and taste. RFID antenna are attached to clothing racks or shelves to track every movement of product and customers. Whenever consumer removes an item from the rack, data are sent for analysis. If consumers put an item back on the rack after just five seconds, it means that they don’t like the material or product. If that item has disappeared after more than five minutes from a rack, it can be believed that the consumer is liking, in this way the study of consumer behavior can be done.

4. Managing returns:
Managing returns can also be resolved by retrieving the information stored in the RFID tags. When the consumer returns certain goods or items, its RFID tag can be read and added to the database. In this way, employees can see the history of who has manufactured the product in order to send any complaints. If there are more number of items returned due to quality issues or customers lack of interest can be indicated by the RFID tag.

5. RFID tags for care labelling:
If we see the recent care labels they are printed or woven labels which store limited information. To overcome this electronic labels which uses RFID tags are helpful for storing information electronically on a garment. The same RFID tag which is used for containing the product details cannot be used for storing the wash care instructions, due to privacy concerns. Many companies identified the benefit to consumers of including washing instructions on the RFID tag.

RFID tag for care lebelling
Figure 5: RFID tag for care lebelling

5. RFID used in fitting room:
The new approach of RFID technology is used in the fitting room. With this the automatic suggestions are provided to customers buying clothes in the store when they go to a dressing room to try a garment. A “smart mirror” informs them what kind of garment or accessories will be suitable for them. An RFID reader on the smart mirror in the fitting room will determine the clothes which have been brought into the room from the RFID tag attached to the apparel. Because of this the most suitable accessories are then displayed on a suitable interface. In addition, this can also provide information on the price, promotions, availability of sizes and color, other items that match.

RFID used in cloth fitting room
Figure 6: RFID used in cloth fitting room

What are Challenges to RFID?

Even though RFID technology has already been applied effectively in fashion and textile industry, have certain technological restrictions that still need to be overcome to increase its application.

1. Security and privacy issues:
Using RFID is a great challenge to the consumer privacy. The customers using the product with RFID tags can be tracked very easily, so the RFID tag broadcasts the ID serial number or the EPC to the nearby reader, which creates a very high risk of privacy offense.

2. RFID attacks:

a. Tag damage: It has found that due to improper handling of material, it can be easily damaged by the attackers, so this attack in turn can prevent the data communication with the reader.

b. Fake tags: One of the threats with this is that the attackers may replace the original tags with fake ones, which will prevent the data transfer and provide wrong or fake information to the reader.

3. High cost
Even though there is a great advancement of RFID in various sectors, the major drawback of this is the cost of the RFID tag, which is higher as compared to barcode system. Therefore, manufacturers are concerned about the return on investment and net profit by investing the extra cost into the existing system. Many companies like Wall-mart, Benetton, and Prada are trying to still reduce the price. Once the price of this technology is reduced all the retailers and manufacturers can implement the technology.

4. Flexibility
To establish a RFID system a lot of time and money is needed, which may not be economical for many companies. Furthermore, RFID may not be flexible with some existing technologies and even if it can be used with existing system the expectation of 100% data accuracy is still a matter of concern.

5. Lack of standardization
Radio frequency identification is at the initial stage and there are many obstacles ahead of it. It has seen that different versions of RFID operates at different frequencies and need different software and readers. So the need is to be agreed upon one or group of frequencies to have interaction between the manufacturers, retailers and distributors.

6. Technology
As this technology is based on the concept of Radio Frequency, it can be obstruct with other radio transmissions, metals, liquids etc. The impact of interference depends upon the frequency of the tag and the usage environment, which may lead to wrong reading.

Conclusion and Future Trends of RFID in Textile and Clothing Industry

The use of RFID systems in textiles is increasing in rapid pace. In the business context the RFID technology has reached a large interest because of the advancements that it represents for companies considered individually or integrated in a supply chain. In future almost all the manufacturers, distributors and retailers in textile will do business by using the RFID system. Although, RFID systems cannot completely replace the barcode technology, because of higher cost but the accuracy, speed and the return on investment is high in RFID system. It is clear that RFID technology has a very bright future ahead in the fashion and textile industry. By the technological advancements in RFID, we will see more RFID applications in departments where they are currently not being used. RFID system is a promising technology, which will become widespread in the future helping organizations to solve problems in supply chain management, security, personal identification and object tracking.

References

  1. Fashion supply chain management using radio frequency identification (RFID) technologies by The Textile Institute and Woodhead Publishing
  2. Fashion Supply Chain Management: Industry and Business Analysis, Tsan-Ming Choi Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong
  3. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Technology and Application in Fashion and Textile Supply Chain by Rajkishore Nayak, Saminathan Ratnapandian
  4. Sustainable Fashion Supply Chain Management: From Sourcing to Retailing
  5. https://fashionandtextiles.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40691-015-0034-9
  6. https://www.textileblog.com/application-areas-of-radio-frequency-identification-rfid/
  7. https://comparesoft.com/assets-tracking-software/retail/rfid-in-retail/

Image references

  1. https://libcon.in/resources/img/blog/RFID.jpg
  2. Bhattacharya/publication/240787711/figure/fig2/AS:298664691027969@1448218619244/Benefits-of-RFID-for-Retail-Industry.png
  3. https://www.raconteur.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Improvement-in-key-retail-metrics-before-and-after-RFID-adoption-900×712.jpg

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