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Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is extending radio-frequency identification to its chain of Sam's Club outlets, a move that could put RFID tags in the hands of consumers.
This fall, RFID will be put to use in a Sam's Club store at the southwest corner of Highway 121 and Ohio Drive in Plano, Texas. Like other club outlet chains, Sam's Club sells much of its goods in bulk--in cases, for example--so customers can take advantage of volume discounts. That means there's a good chance customers will fill their shopping carts with RFID-tagged products. Wal-Mart will alert customers of cases that contain RFID tags via signs and literature that explains RFID to consumers, and customers can remove the tags when they purchase the product, a Wal-Mart spokesman says. The retailer has said all along it would include the chain of warehouse clubs in its RFID initiative but until now has focused on Wal-Mart stores.
Meanwhile, Wal-Mart's use of RFID in its flagship stores continues. By January, Wal-Mart says it will expand RFID deployments from one to three distribution centers in Texas and increase the number of participating stores from seven to more than 130. Most will be located in northern Texas, the remainder in south-central Oklahoma.
Though the official January launch is still two months out, Wal-Mart is encouraging suppliers that are ready to start shipping RFID-tagged cases and pallets now. Already several apparel, toy, bicycle, and dairy-product manufacturers either have started shipping or will ship within the next two weeks cases and pallets with RFID tags. Beaver Street Fisheries, a midsize supplier of exotic meats and fish, will begin shipping tagged cases and pallets next week.
Wal-Mart disclosed its RFID initiative in June 2003. At the time, the company said the first phase would involve its top 100 suppliers tagging cases and pallets of products headed to three distribution centers in the Dallas and Fort Worth metro area. Since then, more than 30 additional suppliers have asked to join. Wal-Mart believes RFID will give retailers greater visibility of products as they move from suppliers to distribution centers and even to stores' back rooms. The company expects the technology will help it get the right product on the right shelf when the customer wants it.