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4 things luxury fashion can learn from serialisation in pharma

While starting with serialisation can seem daunting at first, it's also the single strongest method for a brand to secure its supply chain, including tracking the movement and sale of authentic products.

Serialisation is the process of assigning a unique identification code to every unit of product a brand produces.

While getting started with serialisation can seem daunting at first, it's also the single strongest method for a brand to secure its supply chain, including tracking the movement and sale of authentic products.

As the foundation of an anti-counterfeiting strategy, serialisation is so strong that beginning in November 2018, every prescription medicine sold in the United States must have a unique identifier that can be authenticated by pharmacy employees before dispensing a drug to consumers. European pharma firms must meet the same requirement by February 2019.

So what if your goal is stopping counterfeiters from harming your brand and brand consumers in luxury fashion and other industries where authenticity is a critical component of brand equity?

Experience suggests a brand owner looking to secure its supply chain and stop counterfeits with a serialisation strategy should select a provider or technology that ticks at least the following four boxes:

  1. Each unique ID number should be created in a manner that it cannot be guessed or predicted by a counterfeiter interested in passing off fake goods as real.
  2. The process of creating and assigning each unique ID during manufacturing must be highly secure. Only a brand owner and its trusted partners should be able to access the systems that generate a valid unique ID and assign it to a specific product, and each access should be monitored for quality control.
  3. The provider should have experience in implementing a serialisation program that includes applying their codes on actual products in actual factories, using methods that are not disruptive for your existing manufacturing and logistics systems.
  4. The technology used to deliver the code must also be capable of "communicating" in a secure and simple way with every user you want to authenticate your products — up to and including the end consumer.

A technology for every objective

Keep in mind that most serialisation providers specialise in marking products with a single technology for code delivery. Hologram companies promote hologram solutions. Barcode companies promote barcode solutions, and so on.

This is important, because the technology a brand chooses to make its Unique ID "read and interpreted" by end users will determine how much data it collects, and from whom.

The widest coverage comes from offering a Unique ID in a visible alphanumeric or barcode format, such as a QR code, since these can be "read and interpreted" by anyone with access to an internet-enabled smartphone, including the end consumer. 

On the other end of the spectrum are RFID solutions that are excellent for tracking products through the legitimate supply chain and onto the showroom floor, but are not accessible for authentication checks by anyone who lacks the corresponding RFID reader gun — meaning anyone who doesn't already work for the brand or an authorised retailer.

In between alphanumeric codes and RFID are hybrid solutions that can pair an alphanumeric or QR barcode for "mass" authentications with an NFC tag for one-touch smartphone verification or an RFID tag for "in house" tracking. 

Here's something else to consider:

It's tempting to dismiss the anti-counterfeiting advantages of a visible alphanumeric or QR code as a component of serialisation strategy because these printed elements are relatively easy for a counterfeiter to imitate.

In fact, displaying a product's Unique ID in these formats makes them an obvious, visible component of the product, so counterfeiters who want to make fake goods appear authentic to retailers or consumers will have no choice but to mark their fakes with a simulated version of the Unique ID used by their target brand.

Once retailers and consumers know to look for the authentication code, a product missing a Unique ID will be immediately recognised as a fake - preventing counterfeiters from defrauding customers with lookalikes at "real product" prices.

Better yet, any product with a false or copied version of a Unique ID will be uncovered as soon as the code is entered for verification online. 

Click here to learn how a copied or fake version of a Unique ID can be recognised during an online authentication.

The result for brands can be an affordable, actionable serialisation strategy that can do far more than stop the sale of counterfeits — and all without disrupting your existing processes for manufacturing and logistics.

Done right, in fact, your serialisation program will create a rich new source of data on the legitimate and illegitimate supply chains that

  • makes traditional IP enforcement more effective,
  • reduces the proportion of brand protection resources dedicated to random inspections, and
  • fosters a more fruitful and trusting relationship with every stakeholder in the legitimate supply chain, from manufacturers to end consumers.