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Are you ready for 'wired' clothes?

Indian Economic Times

The ubiquitous technology is all set to enter an all new space: Clothes. With Benetton ready with its ‘Wired' range, the days of ‘Tech attires' are right here.

Italian clothing maker, Benetton Group, decided some time ago to wire RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chips into its products. Electronics major, Philips, is set to work with Italian company, Lab ID, and mobile computing specialist, Psion Teklogix, to serve the entire range of Benetton's RFID needs. (It is believed that Philips has supplied about 15 million chips to Benetton.)

The question that is bound to arise in the mind of every Benetton user is - What is in it for me?

On the positive front - it might help consumers find the clothes they want in the store and even make it easier for them to return items without a receipt since the store would have recorded the RFID tag.

However, there is a possible downside for consumers. There is a possibility of the consumer being bombarded with intrusive advertising since the consumer’s identity and history of purchases would be linked with the tag even after the customer leaves the store. In a nutshell, the issues over which privacy rights activists are crying foul may actually turn out to be real.

So, why would a company like Benetton use such technology when it might draw a lot of flak from various quarters? The reasons are not very difficult to fathom.

The chips will help the Italian clothing manufacturer cut costs by eliminating the need for workers to take inventory by manually scanning individual items of clothing. It will also protect the garments against theft and help track black- or gray-market sale of clothes abroad.

But how can the company calm the privacy advocates’ fears?

Benetton can obviously package its products as it wishes; but likewise, once they leave the store, customers can do what they like with their new purchase. There should not be any attempt by any manufacturer to track its products once they have passed cash registers in the shop.

Therefore, there are plans to build a "kill switch" into the tags so that they can be turned off as a customer leaves the store. However, there are few glitches in this plan. The biggest one is the question of trust. How can a customer be sure that the retailer at the point-of-sale has turned off the tags?

This question can be nipped in the bud if companies such as Benetton make a policy decision regarding the same. This will strengthen the relationship of trust between the customer and retailer that is so very vital in any customer-focused industry.

What is the likely future for such initiatives? Will this technology wave win over customer minds and, in turn, help manufacturer’s to cut down on inventory-tracking costs?

The probability is high. However, everything will depend on how consumers respond to Benetton’s initial move. Till then, manufacturers and RFID tag companies will have to keep their fingers crossed.

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