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Wal-Mart's Faltering RFID Initiative 130

Posted by Zonk
from the under-chipped dept.
itphobe writes "Baseline magazine has up an in-depth look at Wal-Mart's years-old RFID initiative. Things apparently haven't gone so well for the retail giant. 'The lack of any obvious concrete gains has raised questions as to whether Wal-Mart should delay or freeze its RFID plans. For now, however, Wal-Mart says it will stay the course ... By January 2006 the company hoped to have as many as 12 of its roughly 130 distribution centers fully outfitted with RFID. That effort stalled at just five distribution centers. Instead, the company is now focusing on implementing RFID in stores fed by those five distribution centers so it can gain a bigger window into its supply chain.' Overall the article focuses on the original intentions of the RFID project vs. their implementation. It also discusses several of the technical elements required to adapt RFID for the US juggernaut."
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Wal-Mart's Faltering RFID Initiative

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  • by User 956 (568564) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @05:54PM (#20858983) Homepage
    For now, however, Wal-Mart says it will stay the course ...

    Ah, yes, because we all know how well "staying the course" works out.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      As the RFIDs stand up, we will stand down.
    • I have a feeling "stay the course" isn't a direct quote, but that's beside the point.

      If a technology still have a high potential to provide a good ROI, it may not be bad to continue working with it. It's clear they've altered course, but are still working with the technology.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Missing the point!

      The reason WMart wanted RFID was so that they could run as much of the company as possible on a consignment basis - with title for the product not being transfered until a consumer buys it - that way WMART never has to park any money in stocked products. They do a limited form of this method now, but RFID was going to virtually eliminate the time they would "own" the product to be resold.

      Crazy, greedy way-too-clever rat bastards. They will get RFID rolled out sooner or later - not because
  • 5 cent tags (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Harmonious Botch (921977) * on Thursday October 04, 2007 @05:58PM (#20859021) Homepage Journal
    It's been predicted for years: the cost of an RFID tag will drop to 5 cents and the world will be revolutionized. I did some calculations years ago, and 5 cents seems to be about the point at which the cost of the tag on every item is worth the benefits gained in inventory tracking.
    But the price seems frozen at 10 cents. And that is the cheapest tags in HUGE quantities. For a small business like mine, 20 cents seems to be the current rate.
    • by jack455 (748443)
      I'm buying a RFID reader and going to start scanning everything I buy or receive as a gift. I don't want strangers knowing what I wear/own. That 5-10 cents will also prevent a sale in my case anyway.
    • Re:5 cent tags (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Merk (25521) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @07:03PM (#20859901) Homepage

      The reasonable cost-per-tag really depends on what you're tagging. If you're tagging flat panel TVs 20c/tag is perfectly reasonable. If you're doing item-level tagging on tupperware, even 5c/tag is too much. Unfortunately ultra-cheap items where the manufacturer's margins are super tight are the norm in Wal*Mart stores, so for most of them, 10-20c is way too much.

    • Even at 5 cents per tag how would this compete with simple barcode scanning which is dirt cheap (i.e. one time capital investment in scanning equipment...which you have to do with RFID too and then software or hardware and printer w/ink to print barcodes or label paper)? If everything is scanned when it goes into or out of your warehouse or scanned at the checkout stand in retail sales then the inventory should always be accurate and up to date in the database (at least to some tolerable margin of error). I
      • Re:5 cent tags (Score:5, Informative)

        by hibiki_r (649814) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @10:52PM (#20862361)
        I write retail and warehousing software for a company every American knows.

        Have you ever seen work at a warehouse, or at the back of many retail stores? The number of mis-scans, duplicates and such can be pretty significant. Companies account for this by doing physical inventories, which have a substantial labor cost. And those physicals end up disagreeing with sanity check recounts by up to 2%! In a store that has a significant cost per item, a 5 cent tag would be a cheap price to pay to get rid of most of the physical inventory costs and increase the efficiency of inventory control. At $20c, it eats into margins too much for most.
        • Somebody mod parent up. I couldn't have said it better.
        • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

          by MadnessASAP (1052274)
          I worked in the warehouse of a furniture store and half our time was spent beating our head against the inventory tracking system and looking for barcodes. RFID chips embedded in the furniture would have made our job easier. Also a system that actually worked wold have been nince, it's the first system that I've ever seen that will tell me it's "probably" done.
        • a 5 cent tag would be a cheap price to pay to get rid of most of the physical inventory costs and increase the efficiency of inventory control

          Alright, but from what other people have pointed out in this discussion RFID has its own set of problems so even if you could get 5 cents per tag, how would you prevent the RFID errors from being just about as bad (i.e. not all tags in the box respond to the ping, certain items in the box interfere with the signals, etc) as the barcodes? Perhaps even more importan
          • by bentcd (690786)

            Certain materials like metals for antennas and other commodities associated with RFID production probably have some relatively stable and fixed long term costs for example.
            Generally speaking, metals have become substantially more expensive over the last several years - as is the case with most other raw materials. Many put this down to the growth of China.
          • by Merk (25521)

            Alright, but from what other people have pointed out in this discussion RFID has its own set of problems so even if you could get 5 cents per tag, how would you prevent the RFID errors from being just about as bad

            The concept is this: right now you have two options. Option 1: you assume the shipping manifest is correct and take a pallet into inventory, but say 2% of pallets are actually missing items (or have extra ones). Option 2: you break down each pallet as it arrives and check each item on the pallet (say with a handheld barcode scanner) and make sure that you received everything you're supposed to have. You always discover pallets with missing items, but there's a high labor cost to doing things this way,

            • MOD PARENT UP! Excellent information.

              The title is foolish: The title, "Wal-Mart's Faltering RFID Initiative" was apparently written by an editor who wanted to get attention. Also, the writer of the article obviously has little technical knowledge.

              As usual, Slashdot editors did not read the article before they posted the story. The title of the article, written by someone with no technical knowledge, I suppose, is not supported by the somewhat confused information in the text of the article.

              Quotes
            • by llefler (184847)
              The concept is this: right now you have two options. Option 1: you assume the shipping manifest is correct and take a pallet into inventory, but say 2% of pallets are actually missing items (or have extra ones). Option 2: you break down each pallet as it arrives and check each item on the pallet (say with a handheld barcode scanner) and make sure that you received everything you're supposed to have.

              Option 3: vendor rating. Vendors with a good track record are received based on packing slip, with occasional
          • by bmwm3nut (556681)
            Alright, but from what other people have pointed out in this discussion RFID has its own set of problems so even if you could get 5 cents per tag, how would you prevent the RFID errors from being just about as bad (i.e. not all tags in the box respond to the ping, certain items in the box interfere with the signals, etc) as the barcodes?

            There are two benefits to RFID that would make the problem much smaller than with bar codes. 1) The labor required to read the tag is much smaller. Say you get a palet
    • I'm surprised that the price is still at 5 cents, even with Chinese production. They're very clever at getting the price down on everything, and when I used Chinese factories the price reductions were small and continual. If the price is stuck, maybe there needs to be some competition on the production side of things. That might indicate an opening that another market player could take advantage of. Anyways, I predict that the price will eventually start dropping again when the market corrects.
    • So decreasing the gain of each product sold by 10c doesn't outdo the "damage" by shoplifters? But 5c is ok? Why not raise the price by 5c and decrease the profit by 5c. It may seem foolish, as customers ARE silly enough to shop at a different place because an advertised price is literally 5c higher, but at the same time people like Walmart shouldn't have to worry--they are already pretty much set in the public mind as "CHEAP CRAP" even if they were to raise by 15c.

      Although in a few years, their image mig
      • by DrSkwid (118965)
        How's that profitable multinational working out for you? Sounds like you got it nailed down pretty good!
    • by Dan Ost (415913)
      My group has spent a lot of effort investigating RFID and, for the most part, we've decided that even if the tag was free, until the read rate improves, it's too expensive to use since the process to handle the misreads and bad tags is more expensive than the current process.

      Read rates are horrible for passive tags. Active tags are still more than $1 per tag and even then, don't
      have read rates as good as they need to be to make this work.

      Heck, the number of tags that simply don't work per batch is unaccepta
  • My good friend works for the world's largest bicycle distribution companies, feeding Walmart amongst others. He has said a lot to me about RFID and the way it works in the field, as he has to deal with how everything works at a product distribution standpoint.

    In a nutshell, he says it's CRAP, AND IT DOESN'T WORK.

    That is all.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by penguinstorm (575341)
      Well, sir, if your FRIEND said it than it must be true. The guy who welded my bicycle knows everything there is to know about RFID, after all.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by TheDarkener (198348)
        RTFC, dippie. Bicycle DISTRIBUTION company, not bicycle MANUFACTURER.
        • by Merk (25521)

          Ah, well that makes all the difference, if only I hadn't commented I'd go up and mark you +5 insightful.

          That first issue your friend raised is a really important one, and it sure does lower the effectiveness, and he's certainly right about the other thing he said. I'm not sure I agree with his analysis of the ROI of tagging kids bikes, but otherwise he seems very informed.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by SoCalChris (573049)

      My good friend works for the world's largest bicycle distribution companies, feeding Walmart amongst others.
      Sounds like he works for Huffy. He should be used to crap that doesn't work :)
      • Have they stopped using the "made in America" imagery now that they are building them all in China?
    • by JavaManJim (946878) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @06:40PM (#20859579)
      Having worked IT for JCPenney, we heard a lot about RFID. The concept behind RFID is the holy mantra of supply chain logistics IT staff - VISIBILITY!!!!! However bicycles are a perfect example of semi visible. Picture a pallet of these, all with little RFID tags here and there. Then the RFID reader squirts out a radio signal which bounces merrily around (Mathematica, do a graph of this one!). It might miss some bicycles and have trouble reading others. So POOF, there goes the validity of supply chain visibility.

      And lets not even talk, much anyhow, about a pallet full of cans of soup. RFID visibility is not good amongst cans. If its supposed to always be on a visible side, how do you target the one in the middle? What about mis-stacking with RFIDS hidden? Besides cans provide an example of economics. I understand that Wal Mart pays something on the order of six cents per soup can. If RFID is ten cents. Do you want to "pay" more than a can of soup, 1/24 of your cost for visibility. Perhaps not when profits are measured to much smaller decimal points.

      Good luck,
      J
      • by Merk (25521) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @07:14PM (#20859999) Homepage

        That's why the industry wants a multiple-nines read rate on tags. Missing a tag is a big deal. On some items (like a pallet of bikes) getting 100% almost every time is easy (a bike in a box is mostly air). On other items (like cans of soup) it's extremely hard. Wal*Mart is unlikely to demand that individual soup cans get tagged, but they might want cases tagged, but even then it's hard because it's soup -- mostly metal and water, two things that don't play well with RFID tags.

        One thing to remember is that these companies aren't run by complete idiots. If they pay 6c per can of soup they won't demand that every can be tagged. They also won't trust that the number of RFID tags they've scanned is the number of items shipped. Instead they'll have a shipping manifest that says "300 widgets". If the RFID scanner says it found 300 individual RFID tags, then they can be pretty confident that they read all the tags and that their order is complete. If instead it says 293 they'll know they either have to try to scan it a few more times, or if that doesn't work they'll have to disassemble the pallet and figure out if there really are only 293 widgets or if there are 7 that aren't getting read. If the system works well enough that most of the time it says 300 widgets when there really are 300 widgets it could be useful, but 300 widgets == 300 tags == $30-$60, which is a lot, depending on what's actually on the pallet.

        • Re the possible bicycle %100 read rate. Think of radio reflections. A triggering or reading signal goes out. Then all that metal in the bicycles might reflect and scatter responding RFID signals. We with human eyes can indeed see the individual bicycles by counting tires or handle bars or something. RFID readers have limited visibility; is that faint reflected signal an original signal or another read's reflected one?

          Then am I ever %100 right on everything? Never! So I invite any actual RFID engineer reader
          • by Merk (25521)

            Hi, actual (former) RFID engineer here. In many cases reflection is good, it makes it more likely that a tag will be seen by the reader. Instead of having to rely on the antenna being in a direct line of sight with the tag, you can get a reflection, making the tag visible, so a combination of helpful reflections and lots of open space makes reading tags on boxes of bikes really easy, as long as they're not doing something really dumb and actually putting the tags on the metal parts of the bikes. As for

            • As for the mistake of putting tags on bicycles. Think lowest common denominator in everything that prevails on the manufacturing side; low labor and country culture of allowing bad mistakes. Yes that's China. So some production run will surely come back with RFID tags plastered on the metal parts. Result is wacko RFID as you say.

              Thanks,
              Jim
      • by bsytko (851179)

        And lets not even talk, much anyhow, about a pallet full of cans of soup. RFID visibility is not good amongst cans. If its supposed to always be on a visible side, how do you target the one in the middle? What about mis-stacking with RFIDS hidden? Besides cans provide an example of economics. I understand that Wal Mart pays something on the order of six cents per soup can. If RFID is ten cents. Do you want to "pay" more than a can of soup, 1/24 of your cost for visibility. Perhaps not when profits are measu

      • On the same principle, I work for a company that installs conveyor systems for major distribution centers. The biggest issue we see with RFID is too much visibility. When running a sortation system at 550 feet per minute and boxes 12 inches apart we could read 3 boxes at once and it becomes quite difficult to really differentiate the order of the boxes. The simple solution is multiple scanners but then we have issues with a no read on one scanner but a read on the next scanner. Simply put without an extreme
        • Seems like your RFID scanner had its eyes open too wide.

          Then I have seen the inside of a modern distribution center. Rather jaw dropping to see all those conveyors looping around everywhere and to imagine the amount of goods moved.

          Then with multiple RFID scanners they might need to be linked. I imagaine a solution is available but would be exponentially expensive.

          Good luck in your work,
          Jim

      • Barcodes need to be visible; it's become a well-known part of the plan.

        If an RFID has to be _visible_ in order to work, doesn't that betray the POINT of an RFID? The usefulness of an RFID is that a pallet load of them leaving a dock can be identified, counted, etc by machine, and not by hand.

        If we've reached a point where an RFID needs to be visible, we've wasted more than a decade and billions of dollars on an idea that's failed. Cost per unit and other issues aside, if visibility is necessary (at all) the
  • I'm sure they gave plenty of slack in the schedules they arm-twisted thier vendors into.
  • by mfh (56) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @06:07PM (#20859171) Homepage Journal
    The real reason Wal-Mart hasn't gained anything from RFID quite yet is that the technology isn't being used the way it should be used and that is for convenience and loss prevention.

    Convenient stores could make it really easy to find products with a proper RFID search system with kiosks in the store. That would work out in a way that could make it really easy for customers to find stuff. However the problem comes down in that you end up becoming too efficient... when you have a sale and you are retail giant you want the sale to bring in customers to buy the higher GM products... not the sale items! That loses you money when customers can actually FIND the stuff that is CHEAP. Far better to keep it the way it is there... so that doesn't work out and store giants like Wal-Mart are backpeddling.

    The loss prevention use of RFID is great but theives can bypass any form of security and disgruntled employees don't usually care if someone is stealing 100% of the time... 70% of the time the employee will let even a theif leave the store when the excuse the theif gives COULD make sense... so it's lose/lose there... even with sophisticated loss prevention measures that would use RFID to track products leaving the store. Customers can come up with a valid-seeming excuse to get past so called last-chance methods for loss prevention like receipt checker employees. "Oh I bought this last week and I had a question about it..."

    The best way to have loss prevention it seems is to move to a web or an ORDER ONLY system like you see at stores where employees bring out the products to the customer -- but even those types of stores suffer from theft. Customer can't get to products, customer can't steal em!!

    RFID while it sounds good, and while it has great potential is stuck being a lose/lose... from the profit standpoint. Customers would profit from it, but they also stand to lose out... so w/e ... next technology!
    • However the problem comes down in that you end up becoming too efficient... when you have a sale and you are retail giant you want the sale to bring in customers to buy the higher GM products... not the sale items! That loses you money when customers can actually FIND the stuff that is CHEAP

      Exactly, it's just like how gas stations won't let you pay at the pump, they make you go inside so they can get a chance to sell you something.

      Wait, I'm going to re-think that one...
      • If you have CC you can pay at the pump at most stores some even take cash.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by afabbro (33948)
          And of course, in two states in the union (New Jersey and Oregon), you are forbidden from even touching the pump...the fact that you can't pump your own gas is quite a disincentive to getting out of the car.
    • Electronic tagging is already well integrated into the stores and they have a sustainable way to handle it.

      In supermarkets here an RF tag added on expensive (spirits, large coffee, razors) items.
      I doubt its a full tag and it usually gets removed (for reuse), or destroyed at checkout, but if you walk out of the store without it being deactivated it will beep at you.

      This prevents the losses and doesn't cost as much as a full RFID tag.
      The store is happy that they don't lose as much to shoplifters and the manag
    • by Merk (25521)

      UHF RFID (the type being talked about in the article) isn't used for loss prevention and isn't at all appropriate for it. At UHF frequencies radio waves can't make it through even a tiny bit of skin, so if you hold an RFID tag in your hadn the reader can't see it. LF or HF RFID (i.e. key fobs) work for loss prevention because they can actually travel through your body. You can hold a key fob in your hand and wave it by the sensor and it will read the thing just fine, but that's not the technology they're

    • Convenient stores could make it really easy to find products with a proper RFID search system with kiosks in the store.

      The problem is that there is no incentive for them to make it convenient so long as they are not perceived by the public to be making it actively inconvenient. In fact there is a disincentive. This is why supermarkets move their shelves around and change the locations of items on a regular rotation, precisely to prevent the efficient shopper from memorizing the layout and minimizing his
    • The loss prevention use of RFID is great but theives can bypass any form of security and disgruntled employees don't usually care if someone is stealing 100% of the time... 70% of the time the employee will let even a theif leave the store when the excuse the theif gives COULD make sense... so it's lose/lose there... even with sophisticated loss prevention measures that would use RFID to track products leaving the store. Customers can come up with a valid-seeming excuse to get past so called last-chance methods for loss prevention like receipt checker employees. "Oh I bought this last week and I had a question about it..."

      I work for a grocery store and stopping people from steal is not nearly as easy as it seems. First, we have to see you actually steal the product. Next, if we do see you take an item and try and leave, we have to be sure to be at the door before you get there so we can stop you and say, blah blah blah, give me that back. This is where it gets interesting, if you refuse and push your way out the door and are now outside the store, I could go after you, but at this point the thief has shown a tendency towar

  • by fred fleenblat (463628) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @06:09PM (#20859197) Homepage
    The promise was that waste and inefficiency in the inventory and shipping areas can be eliminated (or greatly reduced) by better tracking.

    But we're talking wal-mart.

    They already were running a really tight ship, keeping every possible cost down, tracking everything with keyboarding and bar codes already, plus any wasted time tracking pallets was mostly blue-vest people at $8 an hour.

    At some point, the waste and inefficiency just isn't there anymore and spending billions of dollars to save millions is pure management stupidity.

    there's nothing wrong with the ship, it's the captain that's messed up.
    • by ambrosen (176977)
      Not necessarily the tightest ship, though. Tesco [economist.com] has more able distribution systems, especially for smaller shop sizes.
      • i just looked into this and it looks like tesco has scaled back their rfid plans a lot. for now they're just tagging their internal shipping cages and not the goods themselves. this prevents the occasional mix-up without interfering with the whole supply chain.
    • by mpapet (761907)
      From the floor of a warehouse, I agree that it doesn't look like it would help.

      When the PHB at Walmart promise "on the shelf on 10/1/07" and you don't see any sales for a week, you can find out _where_ your stuff is. Which is quite difficult in the current system. Then what happens is there's a regular review of your category within the retailer and you will have the best reason of all as to why your product didn't sell better. (It's never good enough) It never got on the shelf!

      RFID has many hurdles to c
      • What does determining where your stuff is have to do with RFIDs? The type that you're likely to see in warehouses on every single product (what you're describing) are passive and can be read at about 1-2 feet realistically. This is similar to using a barcode reader. I would assume that in a good warehouse, you'd have something like your typical shipping labels on all the pallets/packages/whatever and can read off its data as its being sorted. That is basically all you'll get out of RFID as well. Puttin
    • Agreed. As a former employee of a company that provides Wal-Mart with its warehouse automation systems, the investment to switch to RFID is just too huge. Except for the really big items, the product comes off the inbound trailers and is broken down and very efficiently assigned internal barcode labels. This happens right at the mouth of the automated sorting system. From then on it barely touches a human hand until it's loaded on an outbound trailer. The sorting systems accurately read the barcodes and shu
      • also i kind of wonder if most of the shrinkage cost isn't in losing a few toothbrushes and CD's per day, but management freaking out that OMG someone is stealing from us let's investigate this with some high-paid managers and hire a security firm and install cameras and do rfid and put locks on the dumpsters and install drug-sniffing urinals...come on at some point the countermeasures cost more than the original loss. it's just spite that keeps them going.

        they need to realize that if you hire the cheapest
        • but management freaking out that OMG someone is stealing from us let's investigate this with some high-paid managers and hire a security firm and install cameras and do rfid and put locks on the dumpsters and install drug-sniffing urinals

          Which is precisely what they do when there is even a rumor that a unionizing drive is underway at one of their stores. They fly in a special union-busting team of high priced consultants with surveillance equipment, propaganda materials, and special managerial advisors
    • by Brickwall (985910)
      Sorry, I don't buy this. Since I'm a geezer, I have a bit of perspective. Sir Terry Matthews, formerly head of Mitel and Newbridge, and now running March Networks (and a billionaire to boot), once said about PC's "Why would anyone invest $3,500 on a secretary's desktop?". Well, it took a while, but we eventually found out that those investments did make sense, which is why most executive assistants now support four to five managers, instead of one. Similarly, span of control for many firms has increased, as
  • by langelgjm (860756) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @06:14PM (#20859239) Journal

    Wal-Mart CIO Ford also insists the company is commited to the technology. "The train has left the station," he says. "Imagine in the future being in a checkout line at Wal-Mart and you're out in 30 seconds. Now that's utopia--and we'll get there."

    I'm not quite sure how RFID is supposed to make the checkout person bag my items any faster. Or is that not the slowest part of the whole process? It's not like we're losing a whole lot of time waiting for barcodes to be scanned, unless you're buying pears and they have to key it in manually.

    On an unrelated rant, I'm pretty sure the idea with utopia is that you can't get there. And I can think of a lot better utopia than a Wal-Mart checkout line.

    • by garcia (6573) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @06:19PM (#20859285) Homepage
      I'm not quite sure how RFID is supposed to make the checkout person bag my items any faster. Or is that not the slowest part of the whole process? It's not like we're losing a whole lot of time waiting for barcodes to be scanned, unless you're buying pears and they have to key it in manually.

      The longest part about checking out for me is waiting for some luddite to stop futzing with writing a check and use a check card or cash instead. The second longest part is another luddite standing in the "self-check out" that doesn't understand what to do, especially when they have bulk items or fruits and vegetables that need to be weighed.

      RFID isn't going to solve either of those problems.
      • Agreed.

        And then you have what happened today. Went through the self-checkout and almost everything that I had simply refused to scan without swiping it past the reader 30 million times.

        I think their checkout needed to be worked on.

        Also on my list are boxes that have 5 bar codes with no indication of which one needs to be scanned (especially prevalent when dealing with stuff from the electronics dept.). To top it off, the one that needs to be scanned is usually right next to another one, which, of course,
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Phroggy (441)

        The longest part about checking out for me is waiting for some luddite to stop futzing with writing a check and use a check card or cash instead.

        Seriously? I never have this problem - I figure everyone who uses checks has been writing checks to pay for their groceries for decades, and has got the process pretty nailed down - they start filling it out while the checker is scanning and bagging their items, so when they get the total, writing in the number and tearing it off takes just about as long as entering a PIN and waiting for approval.

        • by catbertz (979803)
          It would be great if check writers were always efficient and prepared. In my experience, about half the time check writers don't pull their checkbooks out until the total is given, then they start filling in the check. @$@#^%! :)
        • by vinn01 (178295)
          You're thinking of check writers in their 30s residing in quiet suburbia. Go to a sunshine state at observe check writers in their 60's, 70's, or 80's and I think that you'll notice what the Grandparent (no pun intended) was talking about.
    • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland @ y a hoo.com> on Thursday October 04, 2007 @06:22PM (#20859327) Homepage Journal
      Because you could just push your cart, and in about 1 second it would give you your total. If you have a card on file, you could just walk out the door and get your receipt.

      So either you don't bag at all(bring in your own) or bagging will be quicker because it can be done without the scanning piece of the process.

      It's Wal-marts utopia, not yours. However you are right about never achieving utopia, except for fleeting moments. contrary to what that spokesman said, the will never reach there utopia because there will be the elderly, the disabled, the newbs, the noobs, and returns. The management at Wal-mart knows this.

      • by langelgjm (860756)

        Sure, you could do that with RFID. But I don't think people (Americans, at least) are going to take very kindly to not having their items bagged. What are you supposed to do when you get to your car?

        Also, tallying up the items one by one may be slow, but it also gives the customer a chance to ensure that they are being rung up correctly, and to make sure that discounts are being applied, etc. I wouldn't trust any store, least of all Wal-Mart, to ring up things without making mistakes.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Jimmy_B (129296)

        Because you could just push your cart, and in about 1 second it would give you your total. If you have a card on file, you could just walk out the door and get your receipt.
        That won't happen, because it invites shoplifting: just remove or disable the RFID tag on an expensive item and you get it free.
    • I'm not quite sure how RFID is supposed to make the checkout person bag my items any faster. Or is that not the slowest part of the whole process? It's not like we're losing a whole lot of time waiting for barcodes to be scanned, unless you're buying pears and they have to key it in manually.

      Why couldn't the store simply have a pack of bags attached to the side of the cart, and you bag your own groceries as you're putting them in the cart?
    • by bosef1 (208943)
      I find that usually the slowest part of waiting in line at the local Super Wal-Mart is, well, waiting in line. They must have 30 lanes available for purchases, but rarely are a significant fraction of them open. I guess they have figured out the maximum wait-time people will tolerate, and have adjusted their staffing to meet this level. I think it would be excellent if all the lanes were open, but I could see that they could be in a situation where many cashiers are just waiting around to service custome
    • by maxume (22995)
      You could just have bags on the cart, and bag your items as you shop.
    • The KEY to getting out of Wal-Mart checkout lines in 30 seconds.....

      Find out the DAY the REGIONAL MANAGER will be there !!!

      I am serious, my wife experienced this as she stood there and talked to the regional manager afterwards.
      Every checkout line was manned.

      Me, I go to Publix, it might cost more, but the employees are very friendly and cheerful and I never have to wait in line more than a minute.
  • Stay the Course (Score:1, Redundant)

    by necro81 (917438)

    For now, however, Wal-Mart says it will stay the course
    In my opinion, with the weight the phrase has accumulated in the last few years, "stay the course [google.com]" should become a four letter word.

  • by badboy_tw2002 (524611) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @06:21PM (#20859311)
    I've read here on \. that the RFIDs were going to be used by the government to track my sneakers from space and that the second I walked into the Gap I was going to get bombarded with ads based off the stuff I was wearing.

    After reading that, I became extremely paranoid and started wrapping myself in tinfoil every day. But then I realized the RFID could be in the tinfoil itself. So I rewrapped that tinfoil in other tinfoil. They told me I could kill it with microwaves, so I took the tinfoil I was wrapping the other tinfoil in and put that in the microwave. That didn't really work out to well. Now I've been walking around looking like some 1950's space alien comfortable that my previous purchases of BVDs would be safely hidden beneath my shorts and you're telling me that these guys can't even read an RFID out in the open? ...

    You guys are just big jerks you know that?
    • by g0at (135364)
      I've read here on \. that the RFIDs were going to be used...

      Backslashdot?

      b

    • by Merk (25521)

      I'm actually pretty amazed. Stories about RFID on slashdot have gone from "OMG! They're going to read my RFIDs from the street and know what kind of pr0n I bought!!!11!1" a few years ago to discussions about the physics of RFID, the IT infrastructure challenges, and other informed, rational discussions. What happened to the uninformed trolls?

      • Oh, they were probably "tagged and bagged" a while back by the MiB. They cared, but not enough to foil up.
  • It really is

    it's great

    it can help locate and tell me how old everything in the store is this helps for perishables - without having to get people to act like basic humaniods and go and count things... to find out how much is spoiled and been stolen

    it can help move things from one store to another

    BUT it needs to be easy to destroy (privacy reasons) so it will not help you prevent thieves !

    regards

    John Jones
    • by geekoid (135745)
      Like all new technologies, we need to ensure that are rights remain intact.
      Put that in law, and I would embrace rfid. There are a lot of cool things that can be done.
    • by Merk (25521)

      The tags are really easy to destroy. What's hard is keeping them alive. If you want to kill one it's easy. Rip the antennas off the IC, microwave it, smash the chip with a hammer, even just bend it a few times and you'll probably deactivate it. Remember, they're being made as cheaply as possible, as little as 10c in massive volumes, how durable do you think they really are at that price?

      Anybody who thinks UHF RFID will help prevent theft doesn't know anything about the technology.

  • In college, friends of mine would occasionally get harassed by loss prevention when trying to exit our local Wal-Mart.... Mysteriously there would one or more RFID stickers stuck on their backs (or in their jacket pockets, etc...) -Oddly enough I could be found chuckling off to the side. Strange what you can find stuck to the outside of the more expensive items in a Wal-mart. -I generally bought the first couple of rounds/pitchers at the bar to regain favor, but it was all the more funny.
    • by onkelonkel (560274) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @07:11PM (#20859967)
      From the been there done that dept...

      The undergrad library at $Canadian_University had magnetic strips in all the books, and exit turnstiles under the mag strip scanners. If the scanner detected a strip it locked the turnstile and set off an alarm.

      I peel a strip out of a book and slip it into my buddy's backpack. I distract him a bit as it get close to class time and then say "Holy kerap, you're going to be late for your lab" Buddy takes off for the exit at a dead run.

      BEEEP...CLICK...WHAM! The scanner triggers, the alarm goes off, and the turnstile locks, all at the same moment. Buddy hits it at full speed, folds in half at the hips and then flies through the air like something from an ESPN highlight clip.

      I snuck the strip out of his bag at our next class, and he never did figure out what happened.
  • Sure, they are evil, but this is beyond their ability. Shoot, the distribution business can't even get the manufacturers to put barcodes on cases in a uniform way. There are untold millions that could be saved in the distribution business if the cases had barcodes on them that could be scanned in an effective manner. Forget it. The market is too chaotic and not even Wal-Mart can bring it to order.
  • Why not make many containers that are reusable (by attaching a different label and mouth) and tag the reusable container with a RFID chip, and track the container against a database of ownership and contents by chip ID. Have an extra bin on the recycling truck to separate out those containers and bring back to suppliers and charge people after a month when the container has not been returned and scanned.
  • There was a good article in yesterday's WSJ article about the era of Wal-Mart waning.

    Basically, other competitors are now starting to be able to compete on price. But what is more important is the other retailers are providing higher quality goods and better service.

    I believe that Wal-Mart's service is actually a big game in limiting reagents. The do not hire enough people to police up the shopping carts and do not hire enough checkers. The are able to maintain an uneasy equilibrium by putting just
  • Here! [baselinemag.com] The technology can still help, but it doesn't make up for stockers and floor employees who can identify problems before they occur. POS and tracking reports will never help make up for an employee who knows how important it is to keep these items in stock. Then again, when your employees are saying "I don't care; If Wal-Mart doesn't care for me, why should I care?" [businessweek.com] you might have bigger problems than keeping tabs on your stock turnover.
  • by schweini (607711) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @08:02PM (#20860573)
    IIRC, RFID nowadays has failure rates between 10% and 40% - and even though it would be incredibly revolutionary if i could get an exact tally of my inventory by just walking through the aisles with an RFID reader once, a failure rate of even 5% would be way to high - people's jobs (HOW much was stolen in the store you manage?!?), long term supply planning and stuff like that are on the line with this, so people are doing anything to reduce the error rate to the bare minimum, and as long as nothing fundamentally changed since the last time i looked into RFID, it's still nowhere close to being viable. Just imagine that nice "instant checkout by driving you cart through some antennas" scenario - but with a 10% failure rate.
    • by Dunbal (464142)
      long term supply planning

      I have news for you. Wal Mart doesn't do "long term" supply planning. That's what the software and the distribution network is about. Wal Mart orders another widget from the manufacturer the minute your widget gets scanned at the cash register. Management knows instantly what's selling and what's not, at any given time. Inventory is kept to the bare minimum.

      Although I agree with your general point, even a 5% failure rate is way too high.
    • by Merk (25521)

      How do you define a "failure rate" for RFID? Your numbers are orders of magnitude higher than any failure rate I've ever seen. The last numbers I saw were successful read rates for reading a single working tag in a decently good environment at up to about 12 feet of range of 100%, and successful read rates for a pallet full of a few hundred tags on a variety of challenging items being driven by a forklift through an RFID gateway of higher than 95%. I have no idea what kind of metric would give you a fai

    • by bmwm3nut (556681)
      IIRC, RFID nowadays has failure rates between 10% and 40% - and even though it would be incredibly revolutionary if i could get an exact tally of my inventory by just walking through the aisles with an RFID reader once, a failure rate of even 5% would be way to high

      But what's cheaper, hiring lots of employees to count every single item in the store (probably with close to a 5% error rate) Or hiring one person to walk through the store all day. A 5% error rate for one reading, quickly drops for multipl
  • Walmart didn't implement RFID themselves anyways. They force their suppliers to. We did a job for a company that was forced (by Walmart) to implement RFID tagging or they would lose their right to sell their products at Walmart. It cost that company (roughly) $250,000 to make the change, then an additional $5,000/mo for the RFID labels. Then their "no read" rate went through the roof to about %8 failure.

    So I'm not surprised that it's not helping Walmart save money. Frankly I don't see how it could. A

  • I read it as "Wal-Mart's Farting RFID Initiative" ...
  • I used to install passive RFID tagging system. To say that the technology sucks is being generous. Tag read rates are not anywhere near 100% and they will never be. Unlike the read rates on barcode labels, this is not a case of needing better quality control to get darker and straighter lines, but a case of the underlying physics being flawed. In particular, it is very difficult to get a read from a box containing a large amount of water or metal since both scatter radio waves. And, you can absolutely

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