Walmart will start placing removable, radio-frequency ID tags (RFID) on individual items. The electronic product code (EPC) will utilize the sophisticated RFID technology to provide real-time information about merchandise selection within each store. However, there is a concern that these "smart-tags" will follow customers and relay personal information such as location to higher-ups at Walmart or marketers.
Lorenzo Lopez, a Walmart spokesperson told WalletPop that the EPC tags are the next generation bar code which puts the customer in control.
Here's how it works: a customer can inquire about the selection of a specific brand of jeans and a Walmart store employee will be able to scan an entire shelf of jeans and get information about the available sizes, and what's in stock. Furthermore, supply chain managers can use this real-time information to optimize shelf stocking by figuring out what each store is running low on and replenish the inventory. This provides a better control of inventory for Walmart stores.
The EPC code will now be part of standard labeling; fixed to the price label or logo tag. Customers decide when they want to remove any tags on their purchased merchandise. The concern about using the EPC code is that RFID might be able to pick up customer location information; possibly tracking them down for any possible recalls. However, the RFID technology is only active in response to the in-store scanners used by Walmart employees. All product information is relayed throughout the supply-chain database in house. The RFID technology can only be picked up by a scanner within a few feet. In a sense, Walmart is tracking clothes, not people, so there's a sigh of relief.
According to the Wall Street Journal, (subscription required) Walmart can also combat employee theft by tracking the whereabouts of merchandise throughout the store. Because information is kept in the database, Walmart will be able to know what clothing belongs to the company, similar to how current bar-codes work. However, the old school bar code is a thing of the past as WalMart plans to utilize technology to become more efficient.
WalMart has always used RFID technology behind the scenes in its supply chain network, so it's nothing new. But, managers decided to transfer this technology to each individual store for real-time monitoring and ultimately easing tracking operations by employees on the floor. Instead of scanning each individual bar code, store employees just roam down the aisles scanning shelves full of merchandise.
Starting next month, there will be signs at each Walmart store letting customers know of the new EPS technology.
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