Walmart requiring RFID tagging, partners with Auburn University

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Walmart is moving ahead with RFID-based inventory management.

Walmart is enlisting the Auburn University RFID Lab in its inventory control efforts.

The discount giant is in the process of requiring its vendors toprovide products that include on their merchandise-attached sales tags a small sticker that features an electronic product code (EPC), instead of only a traditional barcode. This will allow an employee to use a radio frequency identification (RFID) scanner by walking along an aisle and waving a scan gun up and down the shelves.

The use of radio frequency technology that implements aspects of artificial intelligence allows a scan gun to detect and summarize data from mass quantities of inventory stock all at once, scanning literally hundreds of items in just seconds. Everything within the scan gun’s range or wave will be recorded, providing the data programmed into the sales tags to be received by the scanner.

RFID Journalhas reported that Walmart is already requiring apparel vendors to utilize RFID tags; and is mandating that suppliers of home goods, and some hardlines, entertainment and toy products become RFID-compliant by Sep. 2, 2022.

Walmart recently partnered with the lab and is already in the process of distributing training videos to most of its product vendors. It includes a request that all merchandise tagging first be approved by Auburn experts before going to market. Walmart operates more than 10,000 stores and an e-commerce network.

Previously, retailers including Amazon and Target have partnered with the Auburn University RFID Lab.

RFID technology is being developed and enhanced at an off-campus location inside Auburn’s administrative and laboratory offices. The lab is associated with Auburn’s Habert College of Business, Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, and College of Human Sciences.

Along with a small number of full-time employees, more than 50 students already work at the lab, most with some type of paid service and some doing graduate-level research work. As a result of the Walmart project and other work going on, Auburn hopes to have at least 100 students on the RFID Lab workforce by late spring.

“Everybody does inventory,” said Justin Patton, director of the RFID Lab, Auburn University. “The improved data and accountability with the RFID system will make it easier and faster to find the merchandise, especially in cases where numerous items might be stored in a crowded storage area.”

RFID – has its time come?
According to “RFID-Powered Solutions: More Attainable Than Ever,” a study from Cambridge Retail Advisors sponsored by Sensormatic by Johnson Controls, retail has reached an inflection point for RFID. Cambridge Retail Advisors (CRA) suggests that the average cost of labor at retail companies and the increasing value attached to inventory visibility and availability has created a new justification for retail RFID implementations.

Among the uses for RFID cited by the report are increasing accuracy in the inventory data that feeds merchandising and planning tools to minimizes out-of-stock positions, as well as improving the accuracy and efficiency of inventory receiving and making cycle counting more productive.