Apparel maker meshes RFID, NFC and QR together — and makes it all work

This is an impressive piece of engineering. By combining RFID, NFC and QR, Moncler is trying to deliver the best of all approaches.

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The idea of embedding RFID tags into clothing is hardly new, having been part of the anti-theft efforts of manufacturers and retailers for more than a decade. But one European apparel manufacturer, Moncler, has come up with a new marketing twist. Instead of inviting consumer protests on invasion of privacy fears — remember this book? — it has flipped the argument. Moncler is positioning the RFID tags as customer tools to fight piracy and to verify that the product is legitimate.

Item-level RFID is something that has never caught on because the tags would only be cost-effective on higher-priced items. Moncler garments — such as this $1,490 men's coat or this $2,595 woman's coat — certainly qualify. Early RFID efforts envisioned a utopia where all of a retailer's products would be RFID-tagged, allowing for amazingly precise product location. Alas, that no longer looks viable.

But tagging a lot of apparel absolutely is viable, and Moncler's approach provides a nice way to boost tracking in-store, through the supply chain, on assembly lines, and retrieving boxes that fall behind displays as pallets are emptied. All this and positioning it as a customer service — which, I suppose, it is. Nice!

Moncler's approach, though, does not feature an old-fashioned, ordinary RFID tag. No, that would never do for Moncler. It has somehow incorporated a mashup of RFID, NFC and QR codes. Said Moncler: This tag is "an advanced instrument that has an unambiguous alphanumeric code and a QRcode, as well as an NFC (Near Field Communication)  tag that is shaped just like the emblematic logo of the Fashion House from Monestier-de-Clermont. The chip, that is normally used for payments, is in this case used to confirm the authenticity of the product and makes it possible to offer a more interactive and effective verification procedure, by visiting the website, or reading the QRcode or NFC code with specific APPs that can be easily downloaded on to customers’ smartphones."

The manufacturer continued, although it's hard to top describing the shape of an RFID tag as being "just like the emblematic logo of the Fashion House from Monestier-de-Clermont." But it proceeded anyway: "Since 2009, Moncler has undertaken an extensive campaign in defense of its consumers with a complete and structured activity to safeguard the authenticity of the product. With a unique heritage, technology, quality and performance, and an inimitable drive towards innovation and stylistic research, the Italian-French brand has decided to protect its values by focusing on authenticity-traceability even in the after-sale phase."

Is this an RFID tag or a Mercedes?

Sarcasm aside, this is an impressive piece of engineering. By combining RFID, NFC and QR — and I apologize for generating such an acronym-intensive sentence — it is trying to deliver the best of all approaches. With RFID, the tags can be scanned at long distances, allowing for inventory updates at the pallet and truck level. Merchandise can be easily located and, in theory, anti-shoplift systems are made a lot easier.

With NFC, Moncler has the potential for a very easy and quick interface with shopper's phones that happen to be NFC-friendly, with the possibility of information being displayed without a specific app being launched (as in Apple Pay). And QR codes make this work with the millions of phones out there that happen to not be NFC-friendly, as long as the phone has a camera and the ability to house apps.

All in all, not shabby for a company that sells $2,600 coats.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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