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Wal-Mart, Suppliers Affirm RFID Benefits
The retailer and several of its leading suppliers say they see benefits in using EPC RFID today, which they expect to increase over time.
Feb 22, 2007—Wal-Mart Stores remains fully committed to its use of radio frequency identification in its supply chain, and is already seeing quantifiable benefits, says Simon Langford, Wal-Mart's director of transportation and RFID. Several of the retailer's leading suppliers also say they are achieving benefits from tagging pallets, cases and promotional displays shipped to Wal-Mart.
"If you look at the activity within Wal-Mart, we're foot down and full speed ahead," says Langford. "If nothing else, we're starting to accelerate our rollout."
Wal-Mart had initially planned to be in 1,000 stores by the end of January, but now says it won't achieve that target until April. Langford attributed the slight slippage to the fact that Wal-Mart's policy is to avoid rolling out new technology during the October-to-December holiday season, when customer traffic and sales peak and installations could be disruptive to store operations.
According to Langford, Wal-Mart expects to continue RFID-enabling roughly 400 to 500 stores a year, its typical pace for the past two years. He adds that the number of suppliers tagging merchandise, and the number of stock-keeping units they tag, would likely continue to rise at the current pace or faster.
Some RFID tag vendors have complained that most suppliers are doing the minimum to comply with the retailer's tagging requirement, preventing the volume of tags sold from greatly increasing and making it difficult to make money in the market. Langford, however, says the number of tagged cases continues to rise. World Kitchen, for instance, will increase the number of tagged cases it ships this year to 2 million, up from 100,000 in 2006.
Langford says the pace and direction of the rollout will be driven by the businesspeople in charge of operations, not by the IT RFID team. Wal-Mart handed the RFID initiative off to the operational side of the business in 2006. Rather than have the IT RFID team work with suppliers on what to tag and when, the retailer is having its merchandise-buying teams talk to suppliers about this question, making sure fast-moving goods and promotional items are in stock. "They are reviewing the items that we need tagged," says Langford, "to drive sales through better on-shelf availability."
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