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Timeline for Tagging Sellable Units

Sam's Club suppliers that want to save money need to start planning now to meet the tagging mandate. The first steps are virtually cost-free—and could make the difference between achieving benefits and drowning in operation disruptions. RFID Journal has developed a timeline that details what you need to do—and why—and how long it will take.
By Mark Roberti
May 11, 2009Sam's Club suppliers breathed a collective sigh of relief when the wholesale division of Wal-Mart Stores delayed its plans to track sellable units with radio frequency identification tags based on the Electronic Product Code (EPC) standard. The new deadline for suppliers to tag pallets is 2010, and although Sam's Club hasn't set a date for sellable-unit tagging, sources with insight into the company say it will most likely be early 2011.

Two years down the road, suppliers are thinking—no need to worry about complying now. But two years is just around the corner, say RFID experts and manufacturers that have had experience with RFID-tagging products for supply-chain partners.

"It will take you six to 12 months to examine your business practices and determine how and where to tag sellable units in your operations," says Jamshed Dubash, an independent consultant who led Gillette's EPC RFID efforts for several years. "It will take another six to 12 months to integrate it with your back end and scale it up, which means that if you have to do this by early 2011, you are already behind."

That said, if you begin planning now to meet the tagging mandate, your company will have enough time to implement it properly. Depending on the approach you choose, it could take as little as four months or as much as two years. But you won't know which approach makes the most sense for your company until you investigate your options.

In The Complete Guide to Meeting Sam's Club's EPC RFID Tagging Requirements, RFID Journal's editors spelled out a variety of options for where to tag products in your operations or processes, and how to integrate the tagging operation into your back-end systems. The easiest way to comply is to put tags on manually at the shipping area and do no IT integration. This so-called slap-and-ship approach can be set up in four to six months, but it's the most costly in the long term and delivers the fewest benefits. Still, it might be right for your company if you sell only one or two stock-keeping units (SKUs) to Sam's Club and only in small volumes.
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