Mart Begins RFID Rollout
The retailer today begins tracking pallets and cases of product with EPC tags at one of its
distribution centers and seven of its stores in Texas as part of a test being conducted with eight
By Mark Ro
Apr. 30, 2004
Mart today begins receiving cases and pallets of product with RFID tags carrying
Electronic Product Codes (EPCs) at a distribution center in the Dallas/Fortworth area as part of a test being
conducted with eight suppliers. The tag
ged goods will be tracked to the back of seven Wal
Mart stores in
Mart is billing this as a trial, but Simon Langford, Wal
Mart's manager of RFID strategies, told
that this is the beginning of the company's planned roll
out of EPC
"Last year, when we briefed our suppliers, we said that we planned to do a real
world pilot in one
distribution center and several stores," he says. "It's been in our plans all along and is a natural follow
our testing in the lab."
Mart said in June 2003 that it would require its top 100 suppliers to begin shipping tagged pallets and
cases in January 2005. The retailer has spent nearly a year doing extensive tests in an RFID lab. It has been
testing equipment in the Texas distribu
tion center since mid
The eight suppliers participating in the test are Gillette, Hewlett
Packard, Johnson & Johnson, Kimberly
Clark, Kraft Foods, Nestlé Purina PetCare Co., Procter & Gamble and Unilever. Wal
Mart says more
companies will be added
as the trial progresses.
"We're grateful to these companies for their commitment to improving the supply chain process," Linda
Mart's CIO said in a prepared statement. "It isn't easy being a pioneer . . . But that's how
progress is made and
these eight companies are at the forefront of revolutionizing the way we do business."
Initially, only 21 of the more than 100,000 products carried in a typical Wal
Mart Supercenter will be
included in the trial. Tagged pallets and cases of those produc
ts will arrive at Wal
Mart's regional distribution
center, where readers at the dock doors will automatically scan the tags. The data will be passed to an
application that will alert the retailer's operations and merchandising teams and the products' suppl
the specific shipment has arrived.
At the distribution center, cases will be removed from the pallets and processed, as usual, and then trucked
to the seven participating Wal
Mart stores. When tagged cases arrive at the back of the seven stores
tags on the cases will be read and automatically confirm the arrival of the specific shipment.
Mart aims to read 100 percent of all tagged pallets coming through the dock doors at the DC and stores
equipped with readers and 100 percent of all t
agged cases on conveyors within the distribution center.
Langford says Wal
Mart expects to be able to achieve 100 percent read accuracy, and the pilot should
confirm that that is possible.
The retailer stressed that the goal is to improve the on
ailability of products within its stores and
that privacy concerns are being addressed. "We certainly understand and appreciate consumer concern
about privacy," Dillman said. "That's why we want our customers to know that RFID tags will not contain nor
lect any additional information about consumers. In fact, for the foreseeable future, there won't even be
any RFID readers on our stores' main sales floor."
Tagged cases may appear on the sales floor of the seven Wal
Mart stores involved in the test, as
well as at
other stores (which do not currently have RFID readers at their dock doors) served by the Texas distribution
center. Some individual products (cases of one, as Wal
Mart refers to them) will have tags. These include
two types of HP printers and a
n HP ScanJet scanner.
The tags will be in the packaging of those individual products and the packaging will be marked with an
EPCglobal symbol, indicating an EPC tag is present. The tags will be disposed of when the packaging is
thrown away, and customer
s will not be tracked after they leave the store. Signs featuring the EPCglobal
logo will be placed at the shelf where the HP products are sold to help customers identify tagged items.
Many of those involved with the trial and the development and commerc
ialization of EPC technology sense
this is a significant moment, on par with the first commercial scanning of a Universal Product Code on a 10
pack of Wrigley's chewing gum on June 26, 1974. "It's historic day," says Jack Grasso, a spokesperson for
al, who will be on hand to see the first tagged product arriving. "This is the first time EPC technology
is being used in an actual application. It's a sign of the momentum that is behind EPCglobal and EPC