Every men's suit has 40 sizes and for every bra there are 68 sizes. Keeping the right sizes in stock is one of retailers' biggest headaches. Marks & Spencer Group plc thinks radio-frequency ID can ease that problem, so it plans to expand its item-level RFID trial next year.
Marks & Spencer is testing RFID in one clothing department at each of the nine stores where it has item-level tracking. It will expand the trial from one to six clothing departments in spring 2006 and eventually will have item-level RFID in 53 stores. Expanding the testing is a sign that Marks & Spencer thinks using RFID to track inventory of men's suits is working. But the slow pace also reflects caution about rushing to adopt the technology before consumers and the supply chain are ready.
James Stafford, head of RFID at Marks & Spencer, said at the National Retail Federation conference last month that item-level tracking is improving inventory accuracy in the nine-store trial. "It's difficult to keep count and inventory up to date with 100% accuracy," he said. "... RFID has enabled us to correct any errors in keeping track of the correct inventory rather than what the system says we have."
Next, the retailer will integrate the RFID tag into a bar-code label made by Paxar Corp. The RFID chip lets employees pass a handheld scanner past a rack of clothes to check inventory. Data on the chip is unique to each product; the bar code relays only what the product type is. However, Marks & Spencer says clerks will scan the bar code, not the RFID tag, at the register, to allay customer concern that the RFID information will be connected to the individual buyer. Customers will be given the option to remove the tag when the item is bought and before they leave the store.