Fashion counterfeiters could be in for a surpriseas authentic goods are tagged with tiny radio frequency identity (RFID) chips. Gerry Weber chief information officer Christian von Grone recently invested in the new technology, which is alreadypaying off dividends.
That technology was RFID, and since last month RFID tags have been implanted into the care labels of every single Gerry Weber's garments.
Each tag costs around 9 cents, and the company manufactures 26m garments a year. Altogether that adds up to a heavy responsibility on von Grone's shoulders. But he seems confident.
"The business reason for doing this is very simple", says von Grone. "It will make us money."
Von Grone believes RFID will pay for itself in the short term by reducing the amount of labour-intensive stock counting and checking that Gerry Weber staff must perform. This is because unlike old-fashioned bar codes, whole pallets and containers of RFID-tagged items can be counted instantly using wireless scanners.
But in the longer term, he has another ambition: to stop bootleggers from piggybacking on his company's success. "We have 240 suppliers worldwide, and I think some of them - maybe five or ten - are being totally illegal. They produce more than what we order from them, and then they sell the excess on the open market."
Gerry Weber sends out RFID tags to its suppliers, so they can be sewn into the labels. But by sending only the required number of tags, the company ensures that any illegal excess the supplier makes will be untagged and hence identifiable.
"With RFID we can find out who the bad suppliers are, punish them and kick them out of our business."
When scanned by a reader, an RFID chip emits unique signal, like a serial number, which can be cross-referenced against a database containing information about a tag's origin.
Although the technology has been around for years, it is only recently that chips have become small and affordable enough to be used to tag millions - and potentially billions - of individual items for the purpose of anti-counterfeiting.
Image: Gerry Weber