Shoplifters Beware—RFID Tags Powered by AI Are On to You

Published: February 29, 2024

The retail landscape is under siege as brands grapple to safeguard their margins amidst challenging times. With high street footfall dwindling and consumer spending constrained by the soaring cost of living, retailers are facing an uphill battle.

Compounding these challenges is the alarming surge in shoplifting, reaching its highest levels in two decades according to the latest statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). In England and Wales alone, shoplifting has spiked by a staggering third in the past year.

Dr Sabesan Sithamparanathan Head 24

Dr. Sabesan Sithamparanathan

The repercussions of retail crime are significant, with the industry bearing a staggering £1.7 billion loss in 2023. In response, retailers have resorted to tagging more items or implementing lock tags, inadvertently adding friction to the customer purchasing process.

Some have even opted to reduce shelf stock to mitigate losses. In this climate, the question arises: How can retailers effectively combat this escalating problem? The answer lies in leveraging technology to empower brands in the fight against shoplifting.

Historically, technology-based solutions fell short due to their inadequacy for the task at hand—lacking accuracy, suitability, and cost-effectiveness.

RFID Journal Live

However, advancements in technology, particularly in the realm of battery-free Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), have ushered in a new era of innovation. Surprisingly, the solution lies in the convergence of AI and battery-free RFID technology.

Dude, Where’s My Stock?

Retailers now have the means to fortify their defences against shoplifters and effectively monitor inventory through battery-free RFID tag technology. While not a novel concept, recent innovations have propelled the accuracy of real-time location systems to over 99%.

Groundbreaking advancements, such as those pioneered by PervasID and Cambridge University, have addressed the inherent limitations of RFID technology, eliminating dead spots and employing AI to pinpoint the location of tagged items with near-perfect accuracy.

By implementing AI-powered RFID systems, store managers can track products from the moment it arrives in store, to the stockroom, to the shop floor, and finally, to when it walks out the door, pinpointing potential areas of loss such as fitting rooms or identifying trends in theft.

Real-Time Insights

Unlike traditional methods reliant on manual stock checks, RFID tagging provides near real-time insights, enabling swift responses to inventory discrepancies and theft patterns. With this detailed information, retailers can take steps to tackle the crime trends head on.

Moreover, the evolution of shoplifting extends beyond high-value items, with smaller commodities like cheese or socks increasingly targeted due to the allure of cost savings. Conventional anti-theft measures, such as doorway alarms, fall short in providing comprehensive inventory oversight.

With RFID price labelling on every item, retailers gain a holistic view of stock in real-time, facilitating proactive intervention and minimizing losses.

Don’t Leave Your Customer Hanging

Beyond mitigating theft, RFID location technology enhances the in-store experience is a critical component of retail success in the digital age. By equipping staff with real-time inventory location data accessible via mobile devices, retailers streamline customer interactions, ensuring product availability and personalised service.

For instance, staff can instantly deal with customer queries, such as finding out if there is a specific green jacket in size 14 in stock and its precise location. They can access a complete overview of where any individual item is on the premises through a user friendly mobile app.

By having this kind of information at their fingertips, staff are equipped to have better quality interactions with a customer.

Sales Boost Possibilities

Furthermore, if a particular stock keeping unit (SKU) is sold, the system automatically updates to show what items need replenishing in near real-time throughout the day, ensuring the right product is available at the right time for customers. This seamless integration of technology not only boosts in-person sales but also augments online order fulfilment, click-and-collect services, and overall customer satisfaction.

With a return on investment (ROI) achievable in less than 12 months, coupled with unparalleled accuracy and real-time location data accessibility, AI-powered battery-free RFID technology presents a compelling business case for widespread adoption across retail stores.

Furthermore, its potential extends beyond inventory management, offering insights into the complete SKU journey from distribution centre to storefront, thus pre-emptively identifying and mitigating losses.

In the face of mounting retail challenges, AI-powered RFID technology emerges as a beacon of hope, empowering retailers to safeguard their margins, enhance customer experiences, and thrive in an increasingly competitive landscape.

Dr Sabesan Sithamparanathan OBE is a multi-award-winning entrepreneur with more than 15 years’ experience in the IoT space. As Founder and President of his Cambridge University spin-out company, PervasID, Sabesan pioneered and developed the world’s most accurate passive RFID technology, creating a world-leading range of products that are transforming entire industries, generating substantial exports and saving lives. Sabesan’s products and endeavours have both national and international benefit and he has become renowned for forging the worlds of academia and business to great effect, for his intellectual and scholarly excellence, and for the entrepreneurial skills that have enabled him to put innovative ideas into practice in a commercially viable way. Sabesan has become an expert in entrepreneurship, strategic business development and innovation leadership, as well as being a passionate ambassador for STEM and tremendous champion for the development of the next generation of young scientists and business leaders. Sabesan was awarded Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the King’s 2024 New Year Honours, The Royal Academy of Engineering Silver Medal 2021 for an outstanding and demonstrated personal contribution to UK engineering and Queen’s Award for Enterprise: Innovation 2021.