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RFID: Zara and the smartest togs in town

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Zara, Pull & Bear and Massimo Dutti owner Inditex Group is going to use RFID (radio-frequency identification) tagging in 700 stores to trace every garment from warehouse to check out. One of the reasons for Zara’s success (and its owner’s enviable position on the world rich list) is down to its innovative approach to inventory management.

The deployment of RFID tagging is just the latest step to streamlining the inventory management process in retail. A key example of this is that Inditex manufacture most of its garments locally and takes full advantage of that fact by monitoring store inventory continually. Its always-on approach means that it only manufactures and replenishes those garments that are selling and this means that losses are minimised. Retail consumption of RFID is certainly on the rise. Research by US-based supply chain, RFID and enterprise analyst firm ChainLink Research, shows it is already at 40 per cent and growing.

Replenishing those garments that are selling is contrary to the traditional approach of minimum orders with third party manufacturers based on forecasts. These are also typically adversely affected by a huge amount of variables ranging from fickle fashion trends to the perennial excuse of the weather. However, inventory is also effected by a number of positive factors – these run from what the Duchess of Cambridge is wearing in the latest edition of Grazia to a sudden predilection for a trend that matches a retailer’s stock (though this sea change in taste is a double-edged sword). Zara’s approach bypasses all that. What sells is capitalised on and replenished to be able to sell more and what doesn’t sell is simply discarded - RFID is simply a smarter way of managing this. It will also allow Inditex to create in-depth merchandise plan and deliver a streamlined experience across the Zara chain.

That said, there may be some concern for those of us thinking that RFID can track us wherever we go “Big-Brother” style making us questions whether we should be wearing a tinfoil hat to stop Zara stealing our thoughts. Well, yes and no. Yes, RFID potentially could do that but, in this case it won’t track you everywhere because the tag is removed at the checkout. So, no need to worry about the tin foil hat. Zara has a research department that wants to mine your thoughts but it won’t steal them (promise).

But what if the tags weren’t removed? What if we were more relaxed about RFID and opened ourselves up to the possibilities of Zara monitoring how and when we wore our clothes? Well, we would become interactive for a start. Our clothes could talk to billboards and we could be prompted with matching accessories as we walked down the road. Life would be simpler; we could get up in the morning, select one item of clothing, look in the mirror and swipe through options for the rest of our outfit. RFID could even tell us what was in the wash or tell the washing machine what and how to wash – a big tick for eco benefits.

At home lights and music could also be synchronised to our outfit choices - is it a suit day? Then you’re going to work, so let’s play inspiring music to get you motivated for your meetings. Sweats and a t-shirt means you’re home, its 7pm and its chill out time. Going even further we could pay for public transport with our cuffs and record how far we’ve walked with our socks - no need for travelcards, apps or pedometers.

The possibilities once RFID is properly incorporated into our lifestyles are limitless; all we need to do is surrender control. And not wear a tinfoil hat.

Published on Tuesday 12 August by Editorial Assistant

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