Research firm IDTechEx has published a new report on the market for RFID from the apparel sector of the retail industry, putting some numbers to an area of adoption that has clearly been gaining momentum over the last 12 to 18 months. In Apparel RFID 2008-2018, IDTechEx estimates that RFID spending on apparel will be $68 million this year, representing 38 percent of the total worldwide RFID spend for the retail sector. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based firm predicts that figure will rise to $988 million in 2013, an impressive 71 percent compound annual growth rate. Apparel tagging, writes IDTechEx Chairman Peter Harrop in an article about the report, "is now emerging as the first major application of RFID in retail, with a strong business case."
On a per-end user basis, apparel adoption is pretty well distributed around the regions of the world. Japan and the US each account for 23 percent of apparel RFID end users, with Germany at 14 percent, Italy at 7 percent, and China at 6 percent. IDTechEx notes that there is a different theme to apparel deployments in Eastern countries versus those in the West: because so much of the world's apparel is manufactured in Asia, apparel deployments there are often led by manufacturers. By contrast, retailers are leading apparel deployment in the West.
Two such examples are the UK's Marks & Spencer and Germany's METRO Group. The former will account for a whopping 75 percent of the projected 200 million RFID tags purchased in 2008 for apparel deployments, according to IDTechEx. Marks & Spencer is on track to tag its entire annual inventory of 350 million apparel items by 2010. IDTechEx estimates that the retailer is achieving a return on their investment in 12 months thanks to reduced out-of-stocks. Even better, Marks & Spencer is currently not reading tags at checkout, which leaves still more room for value creation from the technology. "The company has bought more RFID tags than any other retailer or consumer goods company (CPG) in the world," writes IDTechEx.
For its part, METRO has been one of the highest profile RFID deployments in the world. It made a big splash last fall with the announcement of a fully integrated item-level system that tracks men's apparel items from the METRO distribution center, through the dock door, at the receiving portals of the Kaufhof retail store, as they pass from the back room to the store floor, throughout the store floor (on display tables, in the dressing rooms, and at kiosks), all the way to checkout.
Why is apparel such a hot application for RFID? First, the value of individual apparel products is typically high enough to justify the cost of an RFID tag. Second, compared with other retail products that include RF-unfriendly liquid or metal, clothing is RF-friendly and therefore much easier to design an RFID system around.