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The Shelves Have Eyes

RFID-enabled security systems can help retailers take a bite out of in-store crime.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Dec 01, 2006—In spite of electronic article surveillance (EAS) tags—those plastic tags that can be found on nearly every type of item in department and specialty stores—shoplifters and employees stole $30.7 billion from U.S. retailers in 2005; that's up from $25.04 billion in 2001, according to the National Retail Federation. EAS tags transmit magnetic, radio or microwave signals to trigger alarms at store exits if they are not deactivated at the point of sale. Problem is, by then it's usually too late. Many retailers dissuade employees from chasing thieves as they flee stores, because there's no telling whether the thief has a weapon or an accomplice who could cause harm.

Now some retailers are turning to RFID—in combination with other security systems—to thwart thieves before they get to the door, as well as to curb employee shoplifting in stock areas. If shoplifters do get away with the goods, RFID could provide visibility into what was stolen, facilitating the replenishment of store shelves and inventory. And RFID could reduce the incidences of fraudulent returns.


Vue Technology's smart shelves and software look for clues to possible thefts of products, such as newly released DVDs.
One system from Vue Technology and the Tag Co., which is being tested by a number of retailers, tracks tagged items on RFID-enabled shelves. The items can be tagged with separate RFID and EAS tags or hybrid RFID-EAS tags. The system is designed to alert retailers to a possible theft, such as a sweep in which a thief clears an entire shelf of a particular product. The smart shelves send real-time inventory lists to Vue's IntelliManager software, which links with the Tag Co.'s EAS software.

If a number of items are removed from a shelf, the IntelliManager sends an alert to the EAS software, which in turn sends a red flag, detailing the location of the shelf, to store security. Store personnel can then determine whether a theft is occurring or if it's a false alarm, such as a shopper removing a number of items from a shelf while hunting for a particular size or style.

Checkpoint Systems, a provider of EAS tags and readers, is developing a hybrid tag that combines its proprietary EAS technology with standard UHF RFID tags. At its RFID Innovation Center in Neuss, Germany, retailer Metro AG is testing an RFID-EAS tag from retail security and RFID vendor ADT. Checkpoint and ADT don't believe retailers are ready to switch from the EAS systems they have in place today to a fully RFID-powered system. Retailers also don't want the additional expense and time needed to apply both EAS and RFID tags to goods. These types of dual EAS-RFID tags could be used in a system such as the one developed by Vue and Tag Co.
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