Skip navigation

Wal-Mart Backs Off Its RFID Plans

Retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. ( has done an abrupt about-face and cancelled plans to sell products with item-level radio frequency identification (RFID) chips embedded in them. Wal-Mart was to have begun a trial within a single Massachusetts store to sell RFID-tagged razor blades from Gillette Co. (, which, like the retailer, is a major proponent of the next-generation technology.

As recently as June 2003 Wal-Mart announced a compliance program for its top 100 suppliers, which mandates RFID-compliant tags be put on all case- and pallet-level shipments to the retailer by January 2005. However, perhaps reacting to consumer watchdog groups' fears that the tags are an invasion of privacy, Wal-Mart has backed off its in-store trial.

“RFID at the product level is many, many years down the road for us,” Wal-Mart spokesperson Tom Williams told the Associated Press. For the immediate future, the retailer will concentrate its RFID plans on tracking inventory in its warehouses and distribution centers.

Wal-Mart's retreat from product-level tags mirrors a similar reversal this spring when garment maker The Benetton Group ( announced its plans to purchase and fit 15 million RFID tags into its apparel. Those plans were almost immediately reversed, though, in the wake of limited — but quite vocal — consumer protests that the tags were an invasion of privacy (the presumption being that a person wearing clothes with such a tag could be traced just about anywhere).

The biggest flaw in that line of paranoia is that the tags are deactivated at the point of sale; nevertheless, both Benetton and now Wal-Mart have concluded that discretion is the better part of retail, opting to better educate consumers as to what is — and isn't —possible with current RFID technology.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.