Target Announces Nationwide RFID Rollout

By Claire Swedberg

The retailer is deploying item-level RFID-tagging for women's, baby and children's apparel, home décor and other key merchandise categories, at a dozen stores this year, and at all 1,795 of its U.S. stores in 2016.

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Upscale discount retailer Target has joined the swelling ranks of U.S. chains that are adopting a company-wide RFID-tagging program to manage their inventory on an item-level basis at many or all stores. The company announced this week that it intends to take its RFID deployment live at some stores later this year, with plans to roll out the technology at all 1,795 of its store locations across the United States in 2016.

In an article posted in the Bullseye View section of Target’s website yesterday, Keri Jones, the company’s executive VP of global supply chain and operations, wrote, “We’re working with key merchandise vendors on a fast-tracked timeline to begin inserting ‘smart labels’ on price tags that will help Target improve our inventory accuracy and enhance our ability to keep stores in stock.”

Keri Jones

Target’s deployment, Jones predicted in the Bullseye column, will be one of the largest RFID projects in the retail market.

The rollout will begin with about a dozen stores, says Eddie Baeb, a Target spokesperson, though he declines to reveal those stores’ locations. The smart labels, made with passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags, will be attached to merchandise in “key categories,” including women’s, baby and kids’ apparel, as well as home décor.

The deployment is intended to help Target manage its inventory throughout the supply chain, thereby reducing the risk of products being out of stock in stores. “We also expect RFID to help us better fulfill online orders placed for store pickup,” Jones wrote, “which already account for 15 percent of Target.com purchases.”

Target has already conducted testing of item-level EPC UHF RFID technology leading to this rollout, Baeb says, though there is much that the company does not want to disclose at this point in time. This includes the makes and models of RFID hardware and software being used with the rollout, as well as the integration companies with which it is working.

For the rollout, product suppliers will attach price tags with integrated RFID inlays to merchandise at the point of manufacture, in the same manner that they previously used to attach price tags. “You probably wouldn’t notice these new RFID tags on your own, necessarily, but that’s the point,” Jones wrote.

“Initially, we’ll use only handheld readers,” Baeb says (rather than fixed reader portals, for instance). Employees will then utilize those handhelds in stores to perform inventory checks, as well as to assist in the fulfillment of customer orders for products purchased on Target’s website for pick-up by those shoppers at the store.

“Target has declared significant investments in our supply chain and technology infrastructure, including $1 billion in 2015,” Baeb states. “Our push to adopt item-level RFID inventory management is a component of that investment, and also supports our omnichannel supply chain initiatives.”

Target is serving as a sponsor of the RFID Lab at Auburn University, which is opening its new facility today, and which Jones indicated was an example of the company’s commitment to RFID technology. “Together with the staff and students at Auburn,” she wrote, “we’ll explore additional ways that RFID tags can enhance the shopping experience.”