Your clothes are going online.
Avery Dennison(AVY), a packaging and labelling giant that puts labels onto products from brands like Nike(NKE), Adidas(ADDYY) and Hugo Boss(BOSSY), has struck a deal with “Facebook for things” firm Evrythng to create unique web identities for at least 10 billion pieces of apparel over the next three years.
Evrythng manages the digital identities of items, from packaging to smart lightbulbs, in much the same way as a social network manages the identities of people — keeping track of their latest “status” and ultimately helping to connect them. The deal with Avery Dennison will see these identities assigned to apparel, shoes and various accessories at the point of manufacture, creating use cases beyond the point of sale.
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“This is probably the biggest deal the [Internet of things] industry has had,” Niall Murphy, the CEO of Cisco(CSCO) and Samsung-backed(SSNLF) Evrythng, told Fortune. “It’s a program we’ve been working on for quite a long time.”
Avery Dennison already adds basic individual identities to millions of products for supply-chain purposes, but this new arrangement, based on Avery Dennison’s new Evrythng-powered Janela “smart products” platform, creates opportunities for various kinds of interactions between consumers and those products.
You’ll be able to do things such as check the authenticity or manufacturing history of that shirt you just bought, participate in various after-sales loyalty schemes or recycling programs, connect with third-party apps, see exclusive smartphone content, and re-order products you like.
Meanwhile, the retailer will also be able to use the items’ identities for things like detecting fraudulently returned products.
Evrythng has been working with individual brands for some time, on various experiments to do with giving items of apparel their own digital identities. However, doing this by default at the point of manufacture means the brands don’t need to weigh up the benefits before deciding how to integrate the functionality.
“The digital capability is there, and it’s about figuring out how to use it most effectively,” said Murphy. “Products are able to be born digital.”
Evrythng’s main relationship here is with Avery Dennison, but it may also establish an ongoing relationship with the brands themselves, depending on what they need to do with those digital identities in the future.
Technologically speaking, things will start simple in most cases, with printed QR codes that the customer can scan with their smartphone to access a service or identify the piece of apparel.
However, that depends on the type of apparel, and tiny wireless chips using NFC or RFID technology will also often be part of the mix — for one thing, they would allow the product to generate extra data (think of Nike’s smart training shoes), and they clearly have implications for stock control.
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“In the past, when we look at some of the technologies, QR codes and so forth, they were more for generic interactions,” Mitchell Butier, the CEO of Avery Dennison, told Fortune. “Consumers want a more personal relationship — they want to have product suggestions from the retailer based on what they personally want.”
With this kind of personal link, could we not end up with a lot of pieces of clothing that help track the wearer? What about the privacy implications?
“It’s clearly a fundamental concern,” said Murphy. “I think brands have an increasingly important responsibility to be transparent with the uses of the data that they’re providing. And clearly part of our role at Evrythng, managing very large amounts of information, is to provide the infrastructural integrity to ensure this data is well protected.”
Murphy added that no-one should be tracked without their consent. “Brands have to nurture trust with the consumer,” he said.