Wal-Mart Pulls Tags Off RFID Test

Jul 10, 2003
George Anderson

By George Anderson

Wal-Mart’s and Gillette’s test of a smart-shelf system using radio frequency
identification (RFID) tags was cancelled unexpectedly by the retailer according
to reports on the Web site, Silicon.com and The Boston Globe.

Wal-Mart spokesman Tom Williams said, “The shelf was never completely installed.
We didn’t want it. Any materials that were there were removed. We never had
products with chips in them.”

Williams said the decision was based on business strategy, not a reaction to
current campaigns against the technology being conducted by privacy advocates,
who are concerned that RFID could be used to track consumers’ purchases without
their knowledge or consent.

The trial would have been the most aggressive step yet by a retailer to push
RFID from warehouses into stores. Those ambitious plans now are likely to take
a backseat to proposals to upgrade warehouse operations with RFID technology,
which will require fewer chips and less computational power.

Gillette had no comment on Wal-Mart’s action but confirmed it was going ahead
with similar tests with Tesco in the UK and Metro in Germany.

Jeff Woods, an analyst with Gartner, made a dire prediction after learning
of Wal-Mart’s decision to scrap the test. “The RFID industry has been floundering
in a sea of science projects, which is what these trials have been to date.
This is one of the most overhyped technologies out there, and this can be viewed
as a precursor to the bubble bursting for RFID.”

The Auto-ID Center of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a major
site of RFID research. Kevin Ashton, the center’s executive director, said he
wasn’t surprised Wal-Mart backed away from its plan to tag retail products.

‘I think all these companies, not just Wal-Mart and Gillette, have been going
through a process of figuring out what they want to do with this technology,’
said Ashton, ‘and they’re all coming to different conclusions.’ He felt that
Wal-Mart probably wasn’t motivated by criticism from consumers. ‘There hasn’t
been any great public outcry that I’m aware of,’ Ashton said. ‘I’m not seeing
the man on the street up in arms over this.’

Moderator’s Comment: What do you make of Wal-Mart canceling
its smart-shelf/RFID test with Gillette?

We agree with Jeff Woods that RFID is being hyped, but
that’s understandable considering the tremendous effort required to advance
broad industry acceptance. It is also important to note Wal-Mart hasn’t thrown
in the towel on RFID technology. It is simply concentrating its efforts on using
it in warehouse operations.
Anderson – Moderator

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

Be the First to Comment!