Retail theft in general costs the industry nearly $32 billion a year. But a new, undetectable radio frequency identification (RFID) tag could change things.
A U.K.-based company, Advanced E-Textiles, is making thread-sized microelectronic RFID tags. The tag—basically a washable, wound-up electronic barcode in thread form that can be read by radio waves—would be sewn into the garment by the manufacturer.
“Current RFID tags are difficult to manufacture and incorporate into textiles because they’re bulky and they don’t guarantee washability or durability,” says Dr. Anura Rathnayake, founder and CEO of Advanced E-textiles. “They are also easily recognizable, hence making the garment more vulnerable for theft.”
Rathnayake’s idea is that these undetectable threads could track the lifecycle of a garment, contain information about the garment’s fiber contents and age, and where it was bought.
Consumers who care whether their goods are stolen or counterfeit could take the garment into a brand’s retail store and have it scanned to see its history. If no RFID tag is detected, the garment would be presumed fake.
Forrester retail analyst Sucharita Mulpuru thinks the potential is there for mass retail adoption, as companies like Zara, Kohl’s, and Macy’s are already investing in better RFID technologies.
More than half of U.S. retail chains have RFID access control and tracking systems within their stores, and nearly all will in the next few years—RFID technology has proven to be a competitive differentiator. The RFID industry itself may be worth as much as $18 billion or more by 2026.