Luxury brands looking to thwart knockoffs of goods ranging from designer apparel to accessories have a powerful new ally in near field communications (NFC). Similar in function to RFID, which accommodates scans from 15 feet or closer for inventory purposes, NFC circuits scan from four inches or less, enabling inconspicuous product verification by auditors while relaying a host of information to the brand’s loss prevention database.

NFC augments or replaces conventional anti-counterfeiting methods, such as identification stitching sewn into a discreet area of designer garments or accessories, fibers that glow under security lights, holograms and micro-printed Mylar strips. While generally effective, these product authentication methods can be defeated by determined and resourceful counterfeiters.

An NFC-based anti-counterfeiting solution consists of a microchip encoded with a serial number that cannot be duplicated; a label carrier; and an NFC-enabled mobile phone equipped with an anti-counterfeiting app. The serial number is encoded at the chip’s point of manufacture. Duplicating the chip would require the use of microchip production equipment and technology. In short, duplication is virtually impossible without access to a microchip manufacturing plant.

Labels embedded with NFC chips typically cost between $1 to $2 each, making them far too expensive for protection of low-value retail items. However, for branded products that command a price premium, the cost of NFC-enabled product authentication is easily justified. Performance apparel is one example.

A look at NFC
NFC circuits measure about 0.75 inch square, compared with RFID labels that range up to 2.5 inches long. Their small size accommodates a huge range of configuration options. For example, NFC chips can be:

  • Embedded into woven labels to authenticate brand-name apparel
  • Placed in the lining of designer handbags and luggage

Is NFC right for you?
Brands that want to evaluate NFC for product authentication should consider these three points:

The form factor: Can an NFC chip be properly integrated into your product? For example, an NFC-embedded label designed to authenticate performance apparel would be quite different from labels authenticating a pocketbook. NFC allows many configurations; can one fit your product?
How important are analytics and real-time data to your loss prevention program? Would it be of value to know geographically where your auditors are finding fakes? Or how many products were scanned? When were they scanned? Do you want a record of every item your auditor evaluates? Is a complete picture of your field auditors’ activities of value?

ROI – Most important, will the benefits of more effective brand protection yield the return that justifies the program’s investment?

Expert assistance and evaluations are available from NFC chip manufacturers, label integrators and loss prevention consultants.

George Hoffman is CEO of FineLine Technologies.

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