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RFID's Impact at Wal-Mart Greater Than Expected

Early estimates of RFID's ability to lower out-of-stocks were too low, according to the University of Arkansas.
By Jonathan Collins
May 04, 2006Early estimates that pegged the impact of EPC radio frequency identification tags in cutting out-of-stocks (OOS) at Wal-Mart at 16 percent were too low, according to the University of Arkansas. Researchers at the university carried out an independent study and announced initial results in October 2005, concluding with the 16 percent figure.

"That 16 percent you have heard so much about—it was a conservative estimate," said Bill Hardgrave, director of the university's RFID Research Center. "Now, by looking at the velocity of sales, or how many units are sold per day, we can see where EPC is making a difference." At a session at the RFID Journal LIVE! conference in Las Vegas this week, Hardgrave presented an updated report on the impact of tracking cases of goods with RFID tags carrying Electronic Product Codes (EPCs).


Bill Hardgrave, University of Arkansas' RFID Research Center
During the 29-week study, which ended in mid-September 2005, university researchers collected the out-of-stock rates on approximately 4,000 stock-keeping units (SKUs) at 12 pilot stores equipped with RFID technology, as well as 12 control stores without the technology. Researchers chose specific SKUs being outfitted with tags at the case and pallet level by Wal-Mart's top suppliers, analyzing the effect of tagging on those products. The university then announced the group's initial finding in October 2005 (see EPC Reduces Out-of-Stocks at Wal-Mart).

Further analysis of the data, however, has since revealed which areas and products can deliver the most positive results of bringing down out-of-stocks caused by poor inventory management within a store. Retail-industry studies estimate that in-store inefficiencies contribute 25 percent of out-of-stock situations, with total OOS rates in retail stores representing 8 percent of merchandise.

The new analysis found no improvement using RFID on slow-moving items selling at an average rate of 0.1 units per day. However, for those selling at a rate of 0.1 to 2 units a day, the use of RFID reduced out-of-stocks by 32 percent. The greatest benefit, however, came from goods that sold 6 to 15 units a day. For such items, the data showed a 62 percent decrease in out-of-stocks. Despite this, the highest-volume sales items—which sold at a rate of more than 15 units daily—also saw no improvement in product availability from using RFID.

USER COMMENTS

Chris Kapsambelis 2006-05-05 11:28:19 AM
RFID and the decrease in out-of-stocks (OOS) at Wal-Mart What I found most surprising, after reading the study by Bill Hargrave and his associates at the University of Arkansas, was that Wal-Mart was not making use of Point of Sale (POS) transaction data for the generation of automatic pick lists to replenish stock. Ever since the adoption of the UPC code in the ‘70’s, super markets have used POS data for inventory control. One has to wonder how much of the 30% decrease in OOS is due to the use of the Automatic Pick List, and how much, if any, is due to RFID.

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