Though VF expects to gain only minimal benefit to its own operations by complying with Wal-Mart's RFID mandate, the company does see the technology as a strategic investment.
"Wal-Mart is our No. 1 customer, so there is no way we will put at risk that partnership,'' says Eric Anthony, VP of IT services at VF. "And we do believe RFID is a strategic technology for the apparel industry. In the long term, there is tremendous value, particularly in the individual tagging of items.'' Wal-Mart and other retailers such as Target Corp. and Albertsons Inc. are currently only asking suppliers to tag pallets and cases of goods shipped to them.
Shortly after Wal-Mart issued its mandate, VF hired Accenture to help it design and facilitate its RFID implementation. Currently, the IT consulting firm is helping a team of VF business managers, IS managers, and engineers select RFID scanners, readers, tag encoders, and printers, as well as middleware; once the equipment and software is selected, Accenture will help VF field- and stress-test all the products in VF's environment.
All told, Anthony says, the RFID implementation will cost VF several million dollars.