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Apparel Tagging Isn't All About Wal-Mart

By Mark Roberti
Oct 01, 2010—The news that Wal-Mart Stores plans to track most of its apparel with radio frequency identification technology based on the Electronic Product Code (EPC) standard stirred two very different reactions among RFID technology providers. Some don't believe the retailer will follow through, based on its previous false starts. Others are sure Walmart has the strategy right this time, and that its decision to use RFID will spur most other apparel retailers to adopt the technology within the next couple of years. They're all probably wrong.

First, let's consider why this is probably not just another false promise from Walmart. We detailed five reasons on our Web site (see Walmart Takes a New Approach to RFID), which we'll summarize here:

1) Walmart is now focused on where EPC RFID can deliver the most value. The retailer understands that the greatest benefits come from tracking products with a wide variety of options, to better manage inventory so the items are always in stock.

2) Business managers are driving the effort. Rather than force all departments to use EPC RFID, Walmart is letting business managers within departments determine when it makes sense to begin working with suppliers to tag products. When an initiative is launched to tag a new product category, the project starts with buy-in from the business managers.

3) Walmart is taking a more collaborative approach with suppliers. Rather than forcing suppliers to tag items, the retailer is proving the value and encouraging suppliers to tag.

4) Walmart is eating its own dog food. The retailer is using the technology in its own apparel supply chain, so it knows where suppliers will benefit.

5) Walmart has a clearly thought-out plan and is taking steps to implement it. With five years' experience of tracking goods using EPC RFID, the retailer knows tagging isn't a simple matter, and it is taking a more deliberate approach this time.
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