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BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Wal-Mart Stores has unexpectedly canceled its planned trial of a so-called smart-shelf system with Gillette, ending one of the first efforts to bring radio frequency identification (RFID) technololgy to store shelves in the United States.
"The shelf was never completely installed," Wal-Mart spokesman Tom Williams told CNET News.com earlier this week. He said Wal-Mart ceased in-store RFID testing because executives wanted to focus on installing RFID systems in warehouses and distribution centers instead.
RFID technology uses microchips to wirelessly transmit product serial numbers to a scanner without the need for human intervention. Many expect the technology to eventually replace bar-code inventory tracking systems.
However, consumer privacy groups have criticized the technology because they worry about potential abuses if product-tracking tags are allowed to follow people from stores into their homes.
Wal-Mart's proposed smart-shelf system was designed to pick up data transmitted from microchips embedded in Gillette product packaging, alerting store managers via computer when stock is running low on the shelf or when items may have been stolen.
Those plans now are likely to take a backseat to proposals to upgrade warehouse operations with RFID technology, which will require fewer chips and less computational power, CNET News.com reports.
Wal-Mart said in early June that it's urging its top 100 suppliers to attach RFID chips to cases and pallets of products that they ship to Wal-Mart warehouses.
A Gillette representative declined to comment on Wal-Mart's decision to pull the plug on the wired shelf, but said the Boston-based company remains focused on helping U.K.-based supermarket chain Tesco and German retail conglomerate Metro with similar trials in Europe.