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WalMart and RFID: The Test Phase

From initial experiences of roll out of EPC in select distribution warehouses and stores, there is confidence that the concept will be a long-term success. Experiments with various tag types and tag placements are underway to see how they impact readability on various products in a non-laboratory environment.

The company has installed RFID readers at the receiving docks, at the back of the building, near the trash compactors, and between the backroom and the retail floor.

Goods shipped to the stores with RFID tags are recorded once at their arrival . By simply waving the scanner at the boxes they are able to know what is inside without having to open anything. Even before the arrival it is possible to know where everything is, which helps to reduce loss during shipment. The tags are read again before they are brought to the sales floor , no reader is installed at the sales point, though. They are read finally at a box crusher after all the items in the case have been put on the store shelves.

Their software monitors the different items sold to the customers and the number of cases brought to the sales floor. This generates the information - which items will soon be depleted from the shelves? Automatically, almost instantly, a list is generated of items that need to be picked from the backroom to replenish the store shelves.

To reduce the amount of time spent at the backroom Wal-Mart has developed a handheld RFID reader. This acts as a kind of Geiger counter that beeps when a worker gets close to the item he or she needs to pick. It is intended to initially provide this in the original seven stores and then deploy them in rest of the 140 stores in a phased manner during the year.

Wal-Mart has also established a retail link extranet with all its suppliers. This enables them to share data from all RFID read points with their suppliers. When a case is brought out to the sales floor, the status reads ~Q being put on the shelves' , when at the trash compactor the status changes to ~Q on shelf' .

Thus within 30 minutes the suppliers get updated on the movement and location of their goods. Suppliers are also learning how to match tags with products and where to place tags for optimum readability. This initial experience will keep them ahead of their competitors.



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