When it comes to securing merchandise with electronic article surveillance, two major technologies rule the roost – RF and AM. Both have been widely used for years and are proven strategies to reduce retail shrink.
Yet as a retailer how do you select between the two? Here are the most common questions and answers relating to RF and AM electronic article surveillance (EAS) to help you make the choice.
What’s the difference between RF and AM?
Both systems involve communication between an antenna (that’s usually positioned near a doorway or overhead) and security tags affixed to items. In brief, the antenna sends out a signal, the tag or label answers back.
The key difference between RF and AM comes down to the frequency at which the systems operate, which is measured in Hertz. AM (Acousto Magnetic) systems operate at 58 KHz, which means a signal is sent out in pulses or bursts between 50 and 90 times a second while (RF) Radio Frequency or RF operates in a sweep at 8.2 MHz.
What type of tags does RF offer?
RF tags and labels range from a wide range of small ultra-thin adhesive labels through to a variety of hard tags, and are suitable for a host of applications, including clothing, food and pharmaceutical products.
What type of tags does AM offer?
AM hard tags and labels are also available in a range of sizes. AM labels are smaller than RF labels but are not paper thin and have a raised profile.
How are RF tags and labels deactivated/detached?
Labels are deactivated by using a label deactivator at the Point of Sale to overload the integrated capacitor to effectively break the label’s circuit.
Hard tags are removed at the point of sale normally by using a powerful magnetic security tag detacher.
How are AM tags and labels deactivated/detached?
AM tags and labels are deactivated using a magnetic deactivator, while tags are removed using a magnetic security tag detacher.
What benefits does RF offer?
- Affordability: Price can range from very low cost for more basic RF systems to high cost for advanced RF systems.
- Available as flat paper labels
- Wide range of label shapes, sizes and presentation
- Labels can be printed on
- Potential for upgrade path to RFID with some RF antenna systems
- Easy high-speed security label deactivation including possible integration with POS scanners
- Available from many manufacturers
What benefits does AM offer?
- Larger detection area so antennas can be positioned further apart
- Less susceptible to electronic interference
- Systems can be concealed in door structures or under flooring
- Security labels can be reused and reactivated
- Accurate detection of tags and labels
What limitations does RF have?
- Labels cannot be reused once the circuit is broken
- Limited range of detection systems. This can be overcome by installing additional pedestals.
- More susceptible to electronic and metallic interference.
What limitations does AM have?
- The cost is often higher than RF
- Labels can’t be bent around merchandise and can’t be easily printed on
- Antennas are not easily upgradable to RFID
Who uses RF?
RF EAS is often suited to retailers with high volumes of packaged products. This means they’re most popular with supermarkets, discount stores, chemists and video stores.
With a variety of tag sizes and the potential for some RF pedestals to upgrade to RFID, RF has seen recent growth in apparel stores.
Who uses AM?
AM EAS is frequently found in large department stores, apparel stores, and hardware stores. It is also used by retailers selling products with metallic and foil components or packaging.
Which costs less?
Although RF has a reputation for being cheaper to install than AM, the price comes down to what you intend to do. The cost of installing either system depends on your store layout, width of entry way and the type of tags/labels you wish to use.
Is RF the same as RFID?
In short, no, but the two systems work well side-by-side. Some RF antennas can easily be upgraded to RFID where RF and RFID technology work within the same antenna.
What should I consider when making the choice?
A whole range of factors should be considered when making the selection between AM and RF electronic article surveillance.
- The type of products you stock – Small items and high turnover consumables like supermarket wares are more suited to RF. However, products with a high foil content can potentially interfere with an RF system, so AM is better suited to stores with metal products and packaging.
- Whether you will require RFID – Radio Frequency Identification is becoming increasingly popular due to easy stock counting and inventory monitoring. Not all RF systems can be upgraded to RFID, therefore the right solution needs to be purchased from the start.
- Your store entry – AM offers easily concealed antennas that can be positioned under floors, inside door frames and further apart than RF antenna.
- Other stores or existing EAS – If your retail chain already uses a specific EAS system, it’s prudent to continue using that technology for economies of scale in label and tag purchasing.
- Your budget – The initial and ongoing costs are important factors when selecting your system. Ensure you not only factor in the initial installation cost, but the ongoing price of tags and labels.
Selecting the right EAS system for your store involves understanding your needs now and in the future. EAS is an investment in store security, operational efficiency and convenience, so do your homework, talk to suppliers and be prepared to ask questions to work out what’s right for you.