Sidebar: Wal-Mart Offers RFID Update

Retailer devising new uses for the technology

GRAPEVINE, Texas -- Wal-Mart continues to update its RFID initiatives, adding new uses for the technology and getting more suppliers and partners to comply with its mandates.

The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer implemented its RFID system in January 2005 after completing pilots at distribution centers in Dallas, said Carolyn Walton, vice president of information systems.

Sitting on a panel at the RFID World conference here late last month, Walton said the number of Wal-Mart suppliers using RFID technology has more than tripled since the effort began. More than 300 suppliers now feed RFID-tagged goods to 500 Wal-Mart facilities, she said.

By January 2007, the company expects that 600 of its suppliers will be using RFID technology and that the number of Wal-Mart stores capable of handling RFID-tagged items will have doubled to about 1,000.

Walton noted that Wal-Mart has seen a return on its RFID investment -- even before any extensive process changes have been put in place.

For example, she said, out-of-stock items carrying RFID tags are being replenished three times faster than they were before the project began. However, she didn't disclose how much money Wal-Mart has saved by using RFID.

One RFID project that's still in a proof-of-concept phase involves adding sensor tags to perishable goods such as fruit. Wal-Mart is using a special tag to track just how long a crate of, say, bananas has been in transit, so it can ensure that it's sold when the fruit is ripe, Walton said.

Later this year, Wal-Mart will launch a pilot project that tests whether RFID tags can be used to improve the efficiency of unloading boxes from trucks, Walton said.

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