A retail associate uses a Zebra RFD40 handheld RFID sled to read tags on apparel
By Mike Weinhammer | April 18, 2022

How to Quickly and Efficiently Get RFID Tags on Your Goods to Meet Retailers’ Mandates

If you’re affected by the new Walmart Supplier RFID requirement, or a supplier for one of the many other retailers with source tagging requirements, these are the things to know – and do – right now.

The last thing you want is for your inventory to be rejected by a retailer because you don’t have the proper RFID tags on each item – or any RFID tags at all. Especially if that retailer is Walmart, Nordstrom, or one of the many other big brands that have announced new RFID source tagging requirements for suppliers. That’s why the first thing you need to do after you’re done reading this post is to pick up the phone and call me, my team or your local Zebra representative.

Why the rush?

If your goods are sold in Walmart stores across the U.S. or Puerto Rico, or on Walmart.com in the region, then you now have…

  • less than two months* to get your RFID tags tested and inlays certified by the Auburn University RFID Lab. The deadline is June 3, 2022.

  • less than five months to get all your Walmart-allocated inventory tagged. Beginning on September 2, 2022, several hardline and softline products entering stores must have RFID tags and be 100% readable or you will be deemed noncompliant. These include, but may not be limited to, items in the home goods, electronics, toys, sporting goods, and automotive categories. 

But don’t panic. There are a few different ways you can become compliant on time, no matter the state of your inventory. Plus, if you clicked on this post because another retailer is asking you to add RFID tags to your merchandise, that means that you may have a little more time to figure everything out. Either way, we can help you get the technology and processes in place you need to be compliant by the deadline you’re working against.

(*These dates assume you’re reading this on April 18, 2022 – the day this post first published. If you’re reading this in July or August, then please call us today so we can help you get compliant before the September 2 deadline. We don’t want you to have to deal with the consequences.)

How to Become Compliant Now with Retailers’ Requirements

Unless all the inventory you produce or distribute is already tagged at the source today (i.e., the point of manufacture), you’re going to need to make a few key purchases and make some process changes to get RFID tags on goods. Technically, there are a few different ways to approach RFID tagging. 

If you’re a manufacturer, you can…

  • Tag at the source. This is the gold standard and where tagging will most likely take place long term. However, we know a lot of Walmart-directed inventory slated to hit shelves in September is probably already moving through the supply chain. So, another option is to…
  • Work with a 3PL or distributor to tag downstream. This might be your only option right now if inventory is already in transit or on a warehouse or distribution center (DC) shelf. 

If you’re a 3PL or distributor, you may already be fielding requests to tag goods, in which case you can either tag as part of the inbound or outbound processes.

No matter when or where items are tagged, there are a couple of different ways of managing the process:

  • Printing the RFID labels on the spot, either in batches or individually. This will require a little bit more work upfront, as you’ll need to buy the right RFID printers, labels and inlays. You’ll also need to train workers on how to print the RFID tags and make adjustments if a single printer will be used to print and encode different types of tags. Just don’t forget to test everything to validate it works properly. You’ll need to have handheld or fixed RFID readers available for your facilities to complete this process. If you’re trying to comply with the Walmart Supplier RFID requirements, you must also get your tagging solution configured and the inlays tested and certified by Auburn by June 3, 2022. I’m sure other retailers will have their own testing and validation requirements as it gets closer to their compliance deadlines. 
  • Source preprinted, pre-encoded tags from a third party such as Zebra that meet the retailer’s specifications. For many of you, this may be the best solution, at least near term (if trying to comply with the Walmart requirement). Tagging becomes a matter of placing an RFID label in the right location on the package or hang tag per the retailer’s guidelines. Having the tags provided to you, along with details about proper placement, is especially helpful if you’re asking a 3PL to tag inventory in their warehouses. **You can learn more about the RFID Printing and Encoding Service that Zebra provides here.

Whatever you decide, know that you can lean on retail RFID experts such as myself and others within the Zebra ecosystem (such as the RFID specialists in our PartnerConnect partner community) to help you figure out a solution that’s viable from timing, cost and overall resource perspective. We can help you determine which labels, inlays and printers you need based on the pre-qualified tag specifications provided by each respective retailer. For example, Walmart is requiring tags to meet both GS1 and Auburn RFID Lab ARC standards and calls out the inlay ARC spec requirements in its Playbook, which is a valuable tool for any Walmart supplier. Other retailers may have different requirements. And the type of tag (and printer) you need will depend on the type of merchandise you’re tagging. You will not be able to put the same type of tag on sporting goods as you do on electronics as the labeling and inlay performance requirements will be different.  Zebra, and our specialized partners, can help you navigate through these differences.

Of course, reaching out ASAP to an RFID solution provider is key to ensuring you have everything you need to get the tags on merchandise in time. Even if you’re speaking with someone from GS1 or Auburn, you’ll still need to call us to get the wheels in motion.

One thing to remember: it may be smart to have both a short-term and long-term compliance strategy. If you decide to just buy the preprinted tags now to meet the deadline, but longer term it makes more sense to print the tags yourself, let’s talk about what you need to do and when to ensure compliance efforts don’t become disruptive or a cost burden. (This will include the solution components I mentioned above, including RFID printers and readers along with the right labels and inlays.)

Editor’s Note:

Are you affected by a retailer’s RFID mandate? Or do you just want to learn more about how RFID track and trace solutions can help you achieve your business objectives? Gartner, Inc. just named Zebra a Leader in the Magic Quadrant for Indoor Location Services for the third consecutive year, and our team has helped many retailers, manufacturers and warehouse operators successfully implement RFID solutions. Schedule time with a Zebra representative here to find out how we can help you, too. 

Then check out the below resources to learn more about RFID:

Best Practices, Transportation and Logistics, Manufacturing, Warehouse and Distribution, Automation, Retail,
Mike Weinhammer
Mike Weinhammer

Mike Weinhammer is currently the Global Product Manager for RFID Supplies at Zebra where he is responsible for driving and developing the RFID Supplies strategy and product solutions. 

Mike has more than 22 years of experience within thermal printing industry, including the last five years managing the RFID Supplies portfolio at Zebra. Mike holds a B.S in Chemical Engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and an MBA from the University of Chicago, Booth School of Business. 

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