Major American retailers, brands and technology providers have agreed on a set of guidelines for assigning serialised identification numbers to individual items - a move that is expected to drive the uptake of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology across the apparel supply chain.

The information standards organisation GS1 US released the guidelines last week at its annual GS1 Connect Conference in Las Vegas, and says they will make it possible for firms to trace individual products.

The new technical guidelines, 'EPC-enabled RFID Serialization Management for SGTIN-96', provide best practices as well as various methodologies for assigning globally unique identification to individual trade items, using a Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) plus a unique serial number. This combination is known as a Serialized Global Trade Item Number, or SGTIN.

"This document should be the first stop for any company that is implementing right now - regardless of their level of understanding or in involvement in item level tagging," explains Doug Harvel, IT project leader at Jockey International, which helped put together the guidelines.

"This, as with all GS1 US-led efforts, was created by industry, for industry - and will serve the retail sector well for years to come."

Assigning a SGTIN to individual items means that two otherwise identical units of the same product are uniquely identifiable, making it possible to fully use the power of RFID for simultaneous inventory counts and ensure that the right product is in the right place, at the right time.

As well as Jockey International, other leading retailers and brands who were part of the working group responsible for the document, include Lord & Taylor, Macy's, Maidenform, PVH Corp (owner of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger), along with several technology providers.

"This should be part of every company's EPC item-level RFID implementation toolbox," says Pam Sweeney, senior vice president, Logistics Systems, at Macy's. "It helps companies understand the importance of serialisation, its relationship to the technology and why standards are so important when managing serialisation."

The guidelines are intended to supplement standards that are already part of the GS1 supply chain standards framework.

In particular, they offer several strategies to avoid duplication of serial numbers when multiple parties are involved in EPC tagging, whether internal brand manufacturing plants or external parties, such as contract manufacturers or service bureaus.

"Serialisation is a critical component of any EPC-enabled RFID implementation and a necessary first step for companies to prepare for the future retail supply chain," adds Patrick Javick, vice president of industry engagement at GS1 US.

"These guidelines will help companies leverage their existing technology investments and move forward with successful, cost-effective EPC item-level implementations."

Click here for more information on the GS1 US EPC Item Level Readiness Program.