Italian fashion giant Benetton Group on Wednesday said its clothing will soon contain tiny transmitters that allow it to track garments from factory to till in any of its 5,000 stores around the world.

The company said its core Sisley brand will now contain a Philips Electronics radio frequency ID (RFID) tag instead of ubiquitous bar codes which have to be scanned individually by staff.

The transmitters will be embedded in labels during the manufacturing process and remain in the clothing throughout their lifetime. They will also store information relating to the style, size, colour and intended destination of items.

The tags - based on Philips' I.CODE semiconductor technology - have no power source and can only transmit data when they are within three feet of a receiver.

Benetton said it will use the technology in smart shelves and in dressing rooms to highlight where individual garments are located. It will also be employed at the point of sale, automatically registering sales and returns and feeding information back into the company's ordering system to ensure stock levels are replenished quickly and efficiently.

"Benetton has thousands of retail outlets worldwide and therefore wanted to put in place a future-proof technology to bring clear cost benefits to the business whilst seamlessly enabling garments to be tracked throughout their lifetime," said Terry Phipps, electronic data processing (EDP) director at the Benetton Group.

"Working with Philips and LAB ID has allowed us to create an integrated system that encompasses our entire business from the initial manufacturing stages right through to assisting our retail staffing with in-store tracking, ordering and inventory control."

"Over the last few years, RFID technology has dramatically altered supply chain management in a diverse range of applications," said Scott McGregor, CEO at Philips Semiconductors.

"We estimate shipping 15 million I.CODE ICs to Benetton for this project in 2003, making it the single biggest roll-out of RFID technology in the fashion industry to date."