Can RFID Thwart Supermarket Theft?

By RFID Journal

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Ask The ExpertsCan RFID Thwart Supermarket Theft?
RFID Journal Staff asked 14 years ago

I have a retail business—a supermarket. We currently use bar codes at our point of sale, but we have a lot of theft from cashiers and customers. We sell groceries, frozen foods and so forth. From my limited understanding of RFID, it seems as if it would go a long way to solving the above problem. Is that correct?

—Leon, South Africa


Dear Leon,

RFID can be used as an anti-theft deterrent, but I doubt it would be a cost-effective solution for you at this stage. You would need to purchase tags for 20 cents apiece or more, then hire labor or use existing workers to apply the tags. You would also need to install point-of-sale (POS) readers, as well as interrogators at store exits. Workers could continue to steal, however, by removing the tags, placing items in foil bags or walking out of the store with items under their arms. The human body is mostly composed of water, and would thus absorb energy from the interrogator, thereby preventing tags from being read.

RFID works best when items are already being tagged for inventory-management purposes. Then you can achieve additional benefits by also utilizing the tags to reduce theft. The technology can also work well for a small number of high-value items. For instance, if people are stealing designer handbags, you could set up a system that alerts security when the bags are removed from a shelf, or from a specified area of the store.

In your case, however, I think a conventional electronic article surveillance system (EAS) might be a cheaper deterrent.

—Mark Roberti, Editor, RFID Journal

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