RFID Tagging for Multi-brand Vendors: When Source Tagging is not an Option

As RFID deployment increases also among smaller companies, the process of RFID tagging items has become a hot topic. The first large scale RFID implementations in the retail industry were done by multinational fashion and apparel companies, like Zara, Nike, Levi Strauss & Co., and H&M. Also Walmart invested heavily in RFID at an early stage.

Large retailers commonly utilize in-factory source tagging where pre-tagged items are shipped to the Distribution Centers (DCs) and stores with the RFID tag attached. Source tagging is the application of tags at the source, the supplier or manufacturer, instead of at the retail side of the chain.

For smaller vendors selling multi-brand garments, source tagging is not a feasible option. However, not being able to source tag doesn’t mean that a company cannot affordably implement RFID into its operations.


How difficult is it for multi-brand vendors to RFID tag their items? 

RFID enables a better customer experience, and increased sales as each item can be tracked and traced on a single item level. RFID is a sensor technology that uniquely identifies items. When a tag is assigned to an item, each item gets a unique identity. According to studies at the University of Arkansas, RFID’s advantages stem from one core value:

Superior inventory accuracy leads to a reduction in out of stocks and markdowns, reduced buffer stock and re-order thresholds, reduced shelf space per SKU, and better customer service.

Sounds great, but how can you realistically deploy RFID tagging in your business? Let’s take a look at the options for multi-brand vendors that want to implement RFID. Maybe you are interested in implementing an RFID system for your business, but you are concerned about a potentially complicated or unaffordable tagging procedure. It is true that all of your items will need to have an RFID tag, but there are numerous solutions to tagging your items, so companies of any size can find a solution that works for them. There are affordable options whether you do it yourself or you have it done before your inventory hits stores. Read on to learn about your options.


Choosing the right RFID tag

Before you start to tag your items, you need to choose which tag is the most suitable for your needs. There are different RFID tags on the market. To find the best tag, you need to pay attention to:

  • Item surface (metal, textile, liquid, paper, etc.)
  • Circumstances at the location, such as layout, the material of furniture or structures, and temperature
  • Cost structure: are you tagging chocolate bars or luxury items?

Tag manufacturers often deliver UHF RFID tags with a unique, randomized number on the EPC memory bank. However, there are also shipments where each tag has the exact same EPC number. If an EPC number is not unique from the manufacturer, the tag needs to be encoded with a unique number. Only then it can be deployed.


What does it take to tag items when deploying RFID?

Tagging procedures are surprisingly flexible and can be done efficiently on small or larger scales, depending on your needs.

  • For example, in some stores tagging is done in the backroom by store staff. It can be as easy as attaching RFID enabled price tags. If you already print your own price tags, this is probably a good solution for you as you can directly integrate the tags yourself. This is the route that many small and midsize businesses take. Take the example of Tara – Espen Dronsett, a smaller retail store in Olso. The company was tired of the time consuming and low accuracy task of manual inventory and wasn’t big enough for source tagging.
Implementing RFID technology served two concrete purposes: less manual work and higher stock accuracy. Retail stores use RFID technology to keep track of their stock. Items are tagged at arrival at the store. This is done with the help of RFID printers.
  • Smaller vendors might alternatively have tagging stations with pre-encoded tags custom made for a small assortment that staff can easily tag independently in their backroom. This option suits small multi-brand vendors as well.
  • For some larger operations, it could be done at a mid-point. Mid-point tagging is usually done in a central warehouse where the items are tagged before being sent out to stores. In this scenario, the options are having your own staff tag products or having an external service provider to do the tagging for you. Walgreens is an example of a multi-brand vendor that deployed RFID tagging at distribution centers:
The system keeps Walgreens from spending time and money handling products shipped to the wrong store, and it eliminates paperwork and bar-code scanning from the loading process… Walgreens said in a statement that it’s an effort to “revolutionize” the company’s distribution center systems and processes “to drive significantly higher efficiency, accuracy, and ultimately higher margins.
  • Some large companies own the value chain where tags are integrated automatically at the factory. According to RFID Journal,
The source tagging of products with RAIN RFID at the point of manufacture – traditionally via inlays – benefits everyone in the supply chain.


How does self-printing work? 

The EPC code is associated with a specific item tag. Encoding is when the SKU/EPC code of an item is associated with the tag. To enable accurate item tracking, each RFID tag has to be encoded with the data for each specific item (for instance best before date). The individual item data enables locating items (on the shop floor, in the backroom, etc.), what’s in the store, where, how much.

When source tagging is not an option,

  • the retailer can employ a service company to do the tagging and encoding of the items, or
  • their own staff can encode and print up and/or insert the tags on site.

Handling the tagging and related activities in-house requires an encoding station or an RFID printer, which can fit anywhere and is affordable for smaller businesses. If the amounts are very small, this can also be done with a handheld RFID device.

Printing an RFID enabled price tag is an easy and accessible option, and it opens up a whole new world of possibilities when it comes to the item location, inventory take, inventory tracking, and deploying other RFID based solutions such as self-service checkouts, smart fitting rooms, or digital signage such as info kiosks.


Tagging and encoding – what do you need to succeed?

There are three ways to encode an RFID tag. With an RFID Printer, an Encoding station, or with an RFID Reader.

An encoding station is for encoding tags when the tags are applied manually and each item is encoded one by one. The tag can be a barcode, NFC, or RFID. Encoding stations are suitable for small amounts of items and are usually located in the backroom. Also, some special tags, like hard tags suitable for metal surfaces, need to be manually tagged. This process also applies to associating products equipped with ready barcodes with RFID tags. In this case, the customer can utilize both sensor technologies if he wants to, which brings flexibility to the process.

An RFID printer is a better option when large quantities of goods need to be tagged. RFID Printers are devices that simultaneously print and encode information on RFID inlays or labels. These devices are the only way to print on labels, and they also save time by automating the manual process of encoding each tag. The device encodes the items and prints RFID enabled price tags. RFID printers also print the label itself, adding a barcode, graphics, or any other information desired to the label itself.

The RFID printer can be connected to an item data system to enable consolidating different kinds of item data, like price and item information. This speeds up the tagging process as large amounts of tags can be produced in an instant, and different kinds of information can be added to one tag, instead of having separate price tags and RFID tags.

When small amounts of items need tagging, also a handheld RFID reader can be utilized. The requirement is that the reader has tag writing software and capabilities. With the handheld device, one item/tag at a time is written.


We can help you find the perfect tagging solution for your needs

When it comes to RFID tagging items for a multi-brand vendor, the best tagging solution depends on the stock keeping logistics and store backroom item handling processes. Nordic ID has worked with both vendors that apply mid-point tagging, as well as vendors tagging in their backroom. No matter the process, we have deployed affordable tagging solutions together with the customer. Whether your company is large or small, we can find a way to adapt the tagging process into your existing processes so it doesn’t increase your labor costs.

With over 30 years in the business, Nordic ID has long-standing relationships with all of the major tag vendors. We can always help our customers to find the right tag and the best price as a part of the comprehensive service we provide.

Not only do we assist our customers in choosing the best tag, and tag vendor, we also provide support with finding the most suitable equipment for tagging and encoding. We can help with choosing the RFID Printer provided by one of our partners. If the best solution for encoding and tagging is to use an encoding station, or a handheld RFID device, we have several options to choose from in our portfolio.

The Encoding station is a Nordic ID custom solution consisting of an RFID reader, an optional barcode station, and the needed reader technology for encoding tags. Our plug and play software solutions let you automate your tagging process, so there is no absolute need to involve a third party for developing this process. We include it in our full-solution, which means that the tagging system is covered by the monthly fee as part of our service.

The bottom line is that no matter how big your business is, there are reasonable and affordable solutions so that you can enjoy the benefits that RFID provides. Our experts will be happy to help you find the perfect solution to fit your unique business needs.