Though in the early days some were skeptical, it appears that Wal-Mart has prevailed. All indications are that compliance with its now infamous RFID mandate is pretty much on track. Back in June 2003, the retailer stunned the industry by announcing that it would require its top 100 suppliers to attach RFID tags to cases and pallets destined for its DCs as of January 2005. At press time, it looked like that was going to happen. Wal-Mart said it expected 108 suppliers—a figure that includes several companies that complied voluntarily—to be live by the end of January. Another 29 suppliers will come online by the end of February, bringing the total to 137.
In the first update since the mandate took effect, Simon Langford, Wal-Mart's director of global RFID strategy, reported that 53 suppliers started shipping cases and pallets with RFID tags on Jan. 1. He acknowledged that a handful of suppliers had been delayed by the current 12- to 16-week lead time for tags, but reported that they would be included in the group expected to go live at the end of February.
In the meantime, the mega-retailer continues to roll forward with its plans. Wal-Mart will expand its RFID initiative to 12 DCs and 600 stores by October. By the end of the year, Wal-Mart's top 300 suppliers will be required to tag cases and pallets of selected products. By the end of 2006, the retailer expects its entire supplier base (up to 20,000 suppliers) to be "engaged in RFID in some form or fashion." Langford would not reveal when the corporation expected to roll out RFID internationally.