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Target, Wal-Mart Share EPC Data

As part of a pilot, the two retailers are sharing Electronic Product Code data with 13 manufacturers in a standard format, paving the way for automatic data communications over the EPCglobal Network.
By Mark Roberti
Oct 17, 2005Target and Wal-Mart, two of the largest retailers in the United States, are sharing Electronic Product Code (EPC) data with 13 manufacturers as part of a pilot. The data is being transmitted in a standardized format via an Internet-based electronic data interchange called applicability statement 2 (AS2). The manufacturers have requested anonymity, but they include some of the largest consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers supplying Wal-Mart and Target.

The pilot represents a major advance toward the goal of using EPC data to track goods throughout the entire supply chain, as it gives manufacturers a way to benefit from the tags they put on pallets and cases for their retail customers. The agreed-upon data formats include data elements that explain where a tag was read, what business process it was part of and the status of the product (available for sale, for instance). As such, the suppliers can gain insights into not only their products’ location within the retailers' operations, but also their status. This knowledge will help the manufacturers improve their level of service to the retailers, while also increasing product availability to consumers.

XML tags and schema developed by EPCglobal's Fast-Moving Consumer Goods Business Action Group. Software applications can use this coding to process and communicate, automatically and in a standardized manner, the data elements associated with an EPC.

"This data-exchange pilot is a huge tipping point," says Raymond Blanchard, a member of EPCglobal's Data-Exchange Working Group and cofounder of TrueDemand Software. TrueDemand has developed applications that can take advantage of EPC data and enable several of the business cases created by the EPCglobal Business Action Group. "Suppliers have been complaining about the data they are getting back, and Wal-Mart and Target stepped up to the plate and said, 'Let's figure out the use cases, and we'll share the data with you.'"

Target and Wal-Mart had previously been providing the data in different formats. The manufacturers had to manually log on to Retail Link and Partners Online, the extranets run by Wal-Mart and Target, respectively, to download the data into an Excel spreadsheet. The suppliers, however, have struggled to make sense of the EPC reads so they could be automatically used to enable business applications.

Until now, that is.

"Having a standardized data structure is a foundational step needed to share information over the EPCglobal Network," says Mike Meranda, president of EPCglobal US. "This proof-of-concept pilot is a way to test the format that Wal-Mart, Target and the manufacturers have come up with."

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