Metro Group Beats Wal-Mart to RFID Punch

Working with IBM, the European retailer has met a self-imposed deadline for commercial rollout of RFID wireless technology. Its first target: the back-end supply chain.

European-based retailer the Metro Group has beaten U.S. giant Wal-Mart out of the RFID starting gates. Collaborating with IBM and other IT vendors, the Metro Group this month became the first retailer in the world to bring RFID out of trial mode and into commercial deployment. Metro also runs an RFID-enabled "Future Store," but its initial commercial RFID implementation is closely geared to the back-end supply chain.

"The RFID rollout of the Metro Group, beginning in November 2004, is much more than a trial. It is definitely a commercial rollout," Katrin Sulzmann, a Metro spokesperson, said in an interview with

Metro is the first large retailer to use RFID (radio frequency identification) wireless technology "throughout the logistical supply chain," according to Sulzmann.

Initially, the rollout involves about 20 product suppliers—including a bunch that are global household names—along with warehouses and stores in three Metro divisions: Metro Cash & Carry, Real, and Galeria Kaufhof.

Some of the suppliers joining in on Metros deployment are also participants in RFID trials being run in the United States by Wal-Mart and Albertsons, Robert Mayberry, vice president of IBMs new Sensor and Actuation Division, said in another interview.

/zimages/1/28571.gifRead more here about Wal-Marts RFID plans.

Those two U.S. retailers have set Jan. 1, 2005, as the deadline for conforming with their respective RFID mandates. Target Corp., another major competitor in the United States, is eyeing June 1, 2005, for RFID compliance.

But Metro last week met a self-imposed deadline of November 2004 for commercial RFID rollout, when its product suppliers began shipping RFID on warehouse pallets. Metros first crop of suppliers includes Unilever, Nestle, Procter & Gamble, Gillette, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft Foods and Esprit, for instance.

Essentially, Metro will initially hone in on using RFID to automate warehouse, shipping and inventory management, Sulzmann said.

At the next phase, cartons and shipments of hanging merchandise also will be outfitted with RFID tags, or what Metro is calling "Smart Chips."

"First and foremost, the Metro Group is going to employ the RFID technology in the supply chain. The entire restocking process in the warehouses, stores and outlets of the Metro Group can be controlled by means of RFID," Sulzmann said.

Next Page: Putting IBMs RFID middleware to work.