“The electronic article surveillance is a simple method to prevent shoplifting. The technology depends on small EAS tags and a gate system with antennas where the tags use signals from the detectors to raise an alarm”
As per a latest report by Forbes, shoplifting in retail stores across the United States has become a 100 billion USD problem. Many retail businesses across the world often face various challenges in terms of retail store management, security, inventory management, supply chain, and logistics issues, and on top of that dealing with stock shrinkage and shoplifting becomes strenuous and economically challenging.
When it comes to security in retail stores, it has to be balanced with customer experience. Item-level tagging is one way to do this. For security measures, Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS) tags and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags are the preferred choices in the retail business and ironically both technologies are quite old.
For over 50 years retailers have been using electronic article surveillance technology to ensure the safety of their valuable merchandise inside the stores and warehouses. The technology has also witnessed several advancements over the years in terms of the size of the tags, accuracy, and efficacy of the security solution. The cost of implementation has also come down significantly.
Let’s see what this technology is and how it benefits retailers in detail:
What are EAS Tags?
The electronic article surveillance is a simple method to prevent shoplifting. The technology depends on small EAS tags and a gate system with antennas.
EAS tags are small plastic hard tags and labels that work on radio waves. When an EAS-tagged item passes through the gate system, an alarm is raised, alerting the staff members at the store that an unbilled item is leaving the store.
EAS tags typically work on slightly different technologies and are thus categorized into two main categories namely acousto magnetic (AM) tags and radio frequency (RF) tags. EM tags are also used in EAS systems which shall talk about as well.
Acousto Magnetic (AM) Tags
As an article surveillance technology, Acousto Magnetic (AM) works by utilizing a transmitter, a receiver, and an AM security tag.
An AM tag is a three-dimensional plastic tag that is made using two metal strips, one being a strip of magnetostrictive (a metal that changes shape and dimension during magnetization), ferromagnetic amorphous metal, and a strip of a magnetically semi-hard metallic strip. The latter is used for increasing signal strength and facilitating deactivation of the tag.
The tag causes the alarm system to activate by capturing the periodic (50 to 90 times per second) tonal bursts of energy (at 58 kHz approx.) from the detectors and through oscillation in the strip and resulting AC voltage induced in the receiver antenna. The alarm system is activated only when the signal meets the required frequency, repetition, etc.
The technical part is a bit complex, but put simply the tags use the energy from the tag detectors which causes the tag to send signals to the antenna/gate system, raising the alarm system when an AM-tagged item is leaving the store.
AM tags in EAS security offer high sensitivity and can be detected from a distance of several meters. It provides a sure deterrent against shoplifters. It is highly suitable for various retail environments including big stores, departmental stores, and shops.
Radio Frequency (RF) Tags
Another type of EAS tag that is highly used in retail stores is Radio Frequency Tags which, as the name suggests use Radio Frequency signals at a frequency range of 1.75 MHz to 9.5 MHz while in retail stores the standard resonance frequency is 8.2MHz.
Operating Frequency is the main difference in the working of the AM tags and RF tags as is clear from the LF frequency in AM tags and UHF frequency in RF tags.
RF EAS label has been the norm in retail stores across Europe and Asia as it offers fast deactivation which is achieved using a deactivation pad. It sends a pulse and partially destroys the capacitor.
These deactivation pads only send a pulse when they detect a circuit (of RF label) whereas EM and AM deactivation units are always on, consuming electricity. RF deactivator provides remote deactivation from a distance of up to 30 cm.
In case, there is no deactivation pad, you can punch a hole in the label or cover the circuit with a metallic label (it is called detuning).
Electro-Magnetic (EM) tags
Apart from AM and RF tags, Electromagnetic (EM) tags are also used in EAS systems. These tags work on very low-frequency 10Hz-100Hz and can be used for small objects and metal objects such as cosmetic items, items wrapped in foils, DIY tools, cans, homeware, etc.
For deactivation of such tags, magnetization is used which is done using tag detachers.
These tags are also used in libraries to protect books and CDs as these are very thin, small-sized labels.
How much does an EAS Tag Cost?
The cost of EAS tags depends on the type of the tag as mentioned above and the configuration, whether it is an EAS label or an EAS hard tag. When purchased in bulk, an EAS label costs around 2.5 INR per label going up to 30 INR, and an EAS hard Tag costs around INR 6 per tag as the starting price.
In India, you can get premium-quality EAS labels and hard tags (EM, AM, and RF tags) from EnCStore.com at competitive prices with delivery options.
How effective is EAS against Shoplifters?
The EAS security system involves tagging items with EAS tags and installing an EAS gate system with antennas. You’d also need a tag-detaching unit to remove or deactivate the tags. However, merely installing an EAS system won’t work. While many first-time shoplifters are easily caught while trying to shoplift an item, walking through the EAS gate, experienced shoplifters come prepared. In the US shoplifting is a serious issue and with Organized Retail Crimes (ORC) at its peak as of today, retailers are in a disadvantageous position. In many US states, shop owners and employees cannot stop or engage with shoplifters even if they want to as per policies by the state. Moreover, various shoplifters come prepared with tag detachers, and lined bags where the bag is lined with aluminum foils which effectively block the RF signals, and RF tags don’t work effectively. Hard tags are difficult to remove and shoplifter can be caught while they take their time to remove them. Some shoplifter even comes with wire cutters that are rightly banned in the UK by law and people might get charged if they come with lined bags or wire cutters.
To conclude, EAS tags are very much in use in retail and departmental stores and attached to clothes, shoes, and grocery stores. While EAS tags don’t provide any identification or tracking features, unlike RFID labels, they are a deterrent against shoplifting. AM and RF EAS tags are the most common and used in countries in Europe and Asia and many North American countries.