US retail giant Wal-Mart has unveiled expansion plans for its electronic product code initiative, which aims to increase the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags.

Wal-Mart has already got its top 100 suppliers working towards a January 2005 target to have the technology working in North Texas. A further 37 suppliers have volunteered to meet the same deadline.

“We discussed implementation plans with our next top 200 suppliers,” said Linda Dillman, executive vice president and CIO for Wal-Mart. “Over the next 16 months, we also plan to significantly increase the number of Wal-Mart stores and Sam’s Club locations where customers can benefit from this revolutionary technology.”

By June 2005, the company plans to have the technology running in up to six distribution centres and up to 250 Wal-Mart stores and Sam’s Club outlets.

By October 2005, Wal-Mart hopes to be using the technology in up to 13 distribution centres and up to 600 Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores. By January 2006, Wal-Mart hopes its next top 200 suppliers will begin tagging cases and pallets.

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Wal-Mart launched its initial implementation of RFID technology on 30 April in the North Texas area. Cases and pallets of 21 products from eight suppliers are being shipped to Wal-Mart’s Sanger, Texas, distribution centre and then onward to seven local Supercenters with RFID tags attached.

Wal-Mart says the technology allows retailers greater inventory visibility from supplier to distribution centre to a store’s backroom.