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Can RFID Reduce Retail Pilfering?

Posted By RFID Journal, 04.13.2009
I would like to know if RFID technology can assist in terms of pilfering or filching? I have been searching for an RFID-based solution that can assist when it comes to goods or stock being stolen within a retail environment. The current system that uses electronic article surveillance (EAS) gates seems not to be as effective as it is supposed to be. Both personnel and shoplifters easily bypass the system.

For example, some customers are using aluminum foil to steal goods in retail shops. They get two paper bags or two thick plastic bags. They then glue the aluminum foil on the outside surface of the bag that will be placed within the other bag, and also apply glue on the inside surface of the outside bag. In other words, the foil is sandwiched between the two bags. Alternatively, they can align the foil in ladies' handbags. This scam is normally pulled off by women, since they are allowed to enter shops with their handbags. When they steal the goods and walk out of the shop, the EAS system doesn't trigger an alarm, because the foil prevents the system from doing so. Would there be an RFID solution that could help in situations like this? Please assist or advise. Thank you.

Simba

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Dear Simba,

My father used to tell a story from his days in the military, during World War II. One of his bunk mates put a lock on his duffle bag. My father asked him, "What good is that going to do? If someone wants to steal your stuff, they will cut open your bag with a knife." The soldier looked at my father and said, "That's to stop the honest man."

Electronic article surveillance systems are effective in deterring theft by "honest men." That is, someone not going into a store with the intent to steal might decide to steal something if the opportunity presented itself. EAS tags deter them from doing so. They are less effective, however, in stopping professional thieves who use foil-lined bags and other means to defeat the technology. RFID has the same weakness as EAS tags: A foil-lined bag will prevent the energy from an RFID reader from reaching the RFID tag on the product. Therefore, you would not detect items in the bag as they are removed from a store.

Where RFID might play a role in reducing theft is with items stored in a warehouse. Let's say you receive a pallet of DVD players, and that you ship half of them to a retailer, and store the other half in a warehouse. It's often the case that a worker will see the items sitting around for a while and decide to grab one while leaving late one night. RFID could be used to detect that the item has been removed from the shelf and trigger a closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera to film the theft.

Another way in which RFID can possibly be used to reduce pilfering is by requiring people to use their RFID-enabled employee badge to open an RFID-enabled cabinet. When the cabinet is opened and an item is removed, software associates the removed item with the person who opened it. If the item is not sold or returned to the cabinet, a report can then be generated indicating who removed the missing item.

Mark Roberti, Editor, RFID Journal

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