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How Anti-shoplifting Devices Work




The first option in loss prevention involves the use of deterrents such as security guards, observation mirrors (that allow store clerks to see throughout the store) and closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance systems. Most large stores use some combination of these techniques, which were among the earliest tools used to combat shoplifting. Smaller businesses, unable to afford security guards, were able to install video cameras — usually in a prominent place so that shoppers knew they were being watched — to record activity in the store. Later, the retailer could review the tapes, observe shoppers behaving suspiciously (sometimes even stealing) and note the vulnerable displays or areas in the store. The problem with this record-and-review system is that some shoplifters get away with stealing. On the other hand, experts say, the system has merit in that it allows for possible recognition of repeat offenders (something that is prevalent among shoplifters). By reviewing these tapes, the store owner can also learn about theft patterns and get ideas about ways to deal with them.

­Anti-shopliftingYour imaginary department store would probably use electronic surveillance a bit differently than smaller businesses. You might have security staff monitoring store activity on closed-circuit TV as it happens in an effort to prevent shoplifting. Today, there are even systems that allow retailers with several locations to monitor stores and distribution centers from a single location. These remote surveillance systems allow users to send full-frame video image streams over high-speed phone lines to other locations and to electronically store digital video images for review or evidence.

And in larger stores, cameras are often less visible. Next time you’re in your favorite department store, look around. High-speed, high-resolution digital cameras may be mounted in smoke detectors, sprinkler heads, thermostats or clocks. (It’s popular to mount cameras in ceiling tile domes (they’re bubble-like and tinted so no one can see where the camera is pointed). From this vantage point, a pan/tilt/zoom camera can swing about and follow someone around the store. (If security is not monitoring and operating the camera, it can be set up to pan automatically but will not follow someone around the store.)

Video cameras used for security purposes don’t look anything like the video camera your family has at home — they’re becoming smaller and more specialized. A standard surveillance camera might be in the neighborhood of 4 inches long by 2 1/2 inches wide with a lens on the end, according to Jeff Bates of ADT Security Systems in Raleigh, N.C. A hidden camera might be a board camera, which basically is a 1 inch by 1 inch square computer board with a tiny lens, perhaps 1/4 inch in size. These cameras are designed to two specifications, experts say: they must be small and easy to hide.

Now for option number two: locking things up nice and tight. Cable, wire products and security bars are also familiar types of retail security devices. They certainly work to keep your merchandise in the store. But retail industry experts say this isn’t the best way to move your products because cables and other locking devices make it difficult for people to examine items and try on garments. Customers have to get a clerk to come release the item so they can try it on or look at it. Since most people are in a hurry, this might motivate shoppers to move on to a store where the merchandise is more accessible.

Having said that, if you need to use security cables and locking racks, there’s a wide variety of products available to you. Security cables are made with a variety of properties: coaxial cables (for CCTV systems), alarm cables and fiber optic cables. Wire lanyards, which can be snaked through a garment to attach it to a rack or display, are being made stronger all the time. For example, Retail Security Products offers to send potential customers a lanyard test kit to illustrate the strength — over 250 pounds in a pull test — of their product. You’ve probably also seen the locked steel racks used for expensive coats and jackets — again, these have to be unlocked by a sales clerk.

Electronic Article Surveillance

Security experts say the most effective anti-shoplifting tools these days are CCTV and the tag-and-alarm systems, better known as electronic article surveillance (EAS) systems. Separately, these are good options. Used together, experts say, they’re almost unbeatable. EAS is a technology used to identify articles as they pass through a gated area in a store. This identification is used to alert someone that unauthorized removal of items is being attempted. According to the Association of Automated Identification Manufacturers, over 800,000 EAS systems have been installed worldwide, primarily in the retail arena. EAS systems are useful anywhere there is an opportunity for theft of items of any size. Using an EAS system enables the retailer to display popular items on the floor, where they can be seen, rather than putting them in locked cases or behind the counter.

Loss prevention expert Robert L. DiLonardo, says new EAS technologies are being produced — not only to reduce shoplifting — but also to help increase sales, lower labor costs, speed inventory, improve stockroom logistics and, one day, to replace inventory record-keeping. But for now, we’ll stick to the role of EAS in battling shoplifting in your imaginary store!

Three types of EAS systems dominate the retail industry. In each case, an EAS tag or label is attached to an item. The tag is then deactivated, or taken from an active state where it will alarm an EAS system to an inactive state where it will not flag the alarm. If the tag is a hard, reusable tag, a detacher is used to remove it when a customer purchases the item it’s attached to. If it’s a disposable, paper tag, it can be deactivated by swiping it over a pad or with a handheld scanner that “tells” the tag it’s been authorized to leave the store. If the item has not been deactivated or detached by the clerk, when it is carried through the gates, an alarm will sound.

The use of EAS systems does not completely eliminate shoplifting. However, experts say, theft can be reduced by 60 percent or more when a reliable system is used. Even when a shoplifter manages to leave the store with a tagged item, the tag still must be removed — something that is no longer as easy as it once was. For example, some EAS tags contain special ink capsules, which will damage the stolen item when forcibly, and illegally, removed. (This type of device is known in the industry as benefit denial — we’ll discuss it more later!). Other popular EAS components today include source tagging, whereby an inexpensive label is integrated into the product or its packaging by the manufacturer.

The type of EAS system dictates how wide the exit/entrance aisle may be, and the physics of a particular EAS tag and technology determines which frequency range is used to create a surveillance area. EAS systems range from very low frequencies through the radio frequency range (see How Radio Scanners Work). These EAS systems operate on different principles, are not compatible and have specific benefits and disadvantages. That’s why the Consumer Products Manufacturers Association is encouraging a “tower-centric” EAS approach that can “read” multiple tag technologies rather than the “tag-centric” models that exist today.

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