Part 2 – Electronic Article Surveillance – Alarmed and alert
Regardless of the size or location of a retail shopfront, loss prevention is a daily challenge. For Australian retailers it’s a $2.7 billion problem annually, according to the Global Retail Theft Barometer, with shoplifting and employee theft accounting for over 75% of this loss.
The answer is a series of strategies to ensure your security is visible, your items are traceable, and staff are trained and alerted to potential stock loss.
In this series we explore the prime strategies used to combat retail shrink, and profile how they can arm retail stores in the ongoing war against theft.
Electronic article surveillance
Used by over 73% of retailers, Electronic Article Surveillance has been available since the 1960s. It’s widely considered one of the most successful security strategies, reducing theft by an estimated 60-80%.
Reports indicate over one million EAS systems have been installed globally, primarily within the retail sector.
How it works
At its simplest, EAS utilises three essential components – security tags or security labels adhered to merchandise, an antenna/pedestal system which sounds an alarm when activated tags meet certain criteria, and a deactivation device to remove or disarm tags or labels on purchased items at the point of sale.
Tags and labels
A security tag or sticker is either affixed to merchandise at the point of manufacture or when it reaches the store. This tag or label responds to the signal generated by the antenna/pedestal system, and when a customer tries to leave a store without paying for an item (and without the tag or label being disabled or removed), an alarm will sound.
Tags and labels are available in many shapes and sizes for application to a wide range of merchandise.
Security Labels can be as small as a couple of centimetres, requiring only deactivation. Meanwhile security tags are traditionally larger and must be physically removed from merchandise at the point of sale. Tags are attached using small pins and have the benefit of being reusable. In addition to alerting staff to theft, tags are a visible deterrent to shoplifters.
Monitoring and communicating with all these in-store tags and labels is the antenna system, which is usually housed in one or a number of pedestals positioned at the store exit. When merchandise comes into proximity with these pedestals without tags or labels being removed or deactivated, an alarm sounds.
Pedestals can be freestanding, mounted to door frames, or concealed within entrances. More advanced models systems also boast further features such as traffic counting, jammer detection and advertising options.
While security labels are usually deactivated by a deactivator at the point of sale or integrated in the scanner, security tags require removal. This occurs through using a detacher device mounted or installed in the POS counter. Either a mechanical device or a high-powered magnet, it releases the mechanism and allows the tag to be removed.
While all EAS involves the same general principals, the technology used to transmit a signal between the antennas and security tags differs, and there are two predominant systems used for the retail environment.
You can read our full explanation of the systems here and over the coming weeks we’ll provide a detailed comparison of the benefits and uses of each variation. But in brief, the difference comes down to the frequency used to communicate between tags and detection systems, the shape of the label and the uses it’s suitable for, as well the deactivation options available for each system.
Acousto magnetic (AM)
This system has the ability to protect wide exits with high tag detection, using a transmitter to create a surveillance area where security tags and security labels are detected.
The transmitter sends a radio frequency signal in pulses, which energise a tag in the surveillance zone. When the pulse ends, the tag responds, emitting a single frequency signal like a tuning fork. While the transmitter is off between pulses, the tag signal is detected by a receiver. A microcomputer checks the tag signal for a series of criteria. If all are met, the alarm sounds.
AM (58Khz) systems are frequently used in apparel stores as they cover wider entrances. They offer a great variety of hard security tags types, which are traditionally smaller and lighter than other technologies.
AM systems are also well suited to protection merchandise which high metal/foil content commonly found in consumer electronics, hardware and pharmacies.
Radio frequency (RF)
RF (8.2 Mhz) systems utilise a higher frequency to detect security tags and security labels passing through a doorway. Tags or labels applied to products receive the RF signal from a transmitter antenna and reflect this back to a receiver antenna. The response from the label or tag is then detected by this antenna where a microcomputer checks the tag signal for a series of criteria. If all are met, the alarm sounds.
RF is a widely used system. Due to the lower cost of deactivation of RF systems and possible integration with POS Scanners, they are well suited to retailers with high volumes of packaged products which require a flat paper label that can even be printed on. Supermarkets, discount stores, pharmacies and video stores often favour RF systems. Caution should be applied when using for RF labels with metallic or foil products or packaging due to tag detuning and reduced detection.
While EAS systems have been available for many years, the technology behind them has improved greatly over this period. Security tags and security labels now offer a higher quality solution in a range of sizes that no longer impede consumer interaction. They are also more readily integrated with packaging, are more reliable and easier to deactivate at the point of sale.
On the antenna side of things, pedestals are now less intrusive, with more installation options. They are more aesthetically pleasing and have the capability of performing tasks beyond loss prevention such as traffic counting and foil bag detection. Remote service and internet connectivity are increasingly popular.
While EAS technology is often equated with loss prevention, shrink reduction is not an end in itself.
The correct use of EAS provides consumers with a sense of security along with a visible deterrent to shoplifting.
Security tags not only denote that an item is intact and not tampered with, but provide an environment that feels secure, with less susceptibility to criminal activity. In short, good security that is visible through tags is likely to deter criminals from even entering a shop to commit a crime.
Meanwhile minimised stock loss helps keep the cost of wares low. And at a time when retail theft costs the average Australian household over $400 each year, every saving counts.
Ultimately these factors result in a better customer experience within the retail environment, with fewer false alarms, more accurate stock availability, and less passed on expense due to retail shrinkage.
It creates an environment where security is visible, and the environment is safe, but the measures used are not cumbersome, invasive or impede the shopping experience.