Wal-Mart to Tag and Track Clothing
Everyone can quit guessing what next step
Wal-Mart will take in its plan to test radio frequency identification (RFID)
technology. According to a Wall
Street Journal report on Friday, the world’s largest retailer plans to tag
individual men’s jeans and basics (underwear and socks) to help it more effectively
manage its inventory.
"This ability to wave the wand and have a sense of
all the products that are on the floor or in the back room in seconds is something
that we feel can really transform our business," Raul Vazquez, the executive
in charge of Wal-Mart’s stores in the western U.S., told the Journal.
Burke, director of store innovation and the person leading the retailer’s EPC
program, told RFID Journal, "We are addressing the opportunity
to improve inventory accuracy and inventory availability. We have been working
collaboratively with suppliers on a strategic basis to make this part of our
Interestingly, a RetailWire poll earlier in the month
found 88 percent of respondents thought RFID would be somewhat or much more
common in retailing in the next three years. Wal-Mart plans to roll out item-level
RFID to other products in all of its 3,750 stores in the U.S. if the test on
jeans and underwear is successful.
"We are focused on items that require a more complex purchasing decision
by the customer," Mr. Burke told RFID Journal. "With denim,
the customer has to make a decision based on brand, style, size and cut, in
addition to price, of course. There are other areas of the store where we sell
items with similar attributes. Tires are one. Some electronics items, such
as TVs, are another."
According to Mr. Burke, apparel will be tagged when
it is manufactured and will be ready as it arrive at stores’ loading docks
and moves to the sales floor. He told RFID Journal that the technology
would not only let Wal-Mart know when an item needed to be replenished but
if it was missing from a shelf or on the wrong shelf.
While many in retailing see
a tremendous upside to the information available using RFID, privacy advocates
see the specter of Big Brother in the tags.
"There are two things you really don’t want to tag, clothing and identity
documents, and ironically that’s where we are seeing adoption," Katherine
Albrecht, founder of Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering,
told the Journal. "The inventory guys may be in the dark about
this, but there are a lot of corporate marketers who are interested in tracking
people as they walk sales floors."
Discussion Questions: Will Wal-Mart’s actions lead to the widespread adoption
of item-level RFID at retail? Do privacy advocates have legitimate concerns and
how should stores using RFID address them?
- Wal-Mart Radio Tags to Track Clothing – The Wall Street Journal
- Walmart Relaunches EPC RFID Effort, Starting with Men’s Jeans and Basics – RFID
- Wal-Mart’s Privacy Invasion–Not! – CNBC