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American Apparel's tags start tracking your pants

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Iconic clothing store American Apparel is to start putting radio tags into every item of clothing, tracking it from factory to stockroom to store shelf and possibly beyond.

The company has been trialling RFID tags at its New York story for the last few months, attaching tags as items arrived at the store and removing them for re-use when the item is sold. But following that trial the company is preparing a national roll-out, with tags attached to clothing at manufacture and remaining with the items even after sale.

RFID has long been proposed as a replacement for bar codes, allowing tags to be read without requiring line of sight, but the cost has generally limited deployments to boxes of products rather than individual items. American Apparel have a particular stocking challenge as they insist on having at least one of every item, in every size, out on display at all times. This complicates restocking and makes RFID a more worthwhile investment.

The tags come from Avery Dennison and allow each item purchased to be noted as it leaves the stockroom bound for the shelves, and tracked as it's sold. The AD-220 tag was launched two years ago, at which time they cost less than eight cents each. RFID Journal reports that American Apparel has ordered more than a million of them for the 17 stores they'll be rolling out to initially. However, even that's only expected to last six months, as this time the tags won't be removed at the point of purchase.

Readers are built into the doorway to the stockroom and the counter at the till, and hand-held readers are used for stock-taking - a process which was reduced, during the pilot, from 32 man-hours to four. The whole lot is tied together using software from Vue Technologies who quote the retailer's RFID director: "American Apparel takes pride in being a vertically-integrated manufacturer, distributor and retailer of fashionable, high-quality basics, and we embrace any technology that allows us to further realize this vision to better serve our customers."

During the pilot signs around the store warned customers that RFID tags were in use, though in that instance the tags were removed from garments at the point of sale. The next deployment will see RFID tags walking out the door still attached to clothing. American Apparel weren't able to tell us if those will be deactivated or remain in operation to be identified next time you're passing, nor when we might be able to enjoy having our trousers tracked on this side of the pond. ®

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