EAS Tags: Back in Vogue

As margins shrink and consumers wield greater shopping power than ever before, retailers must do everything they can to enhance merchandise availability and ensure items are accessible and easy to try on, while keeping items protected to ensure a positive shopper experience. There are many ways a retailer can achieve an optimal shopping environment, but one of the most tried and true approaches is an Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS) system.

From pedestals and point-of-sale-deactivators to training and equipping sales staff; from improving supply chain and stocking processes to monitoring loss prevention data; retailers direct a significant amount of resources towards EAS merchandise protection every day. Increasingly, they are looking for intelligent EAS systems, integrating RFID technology and reporting capabilities into the mix as they worry less about catching thieves after the fact, and focus more on preventing loss before it happens. Despite this focus, they may be tempted to cut corners on one of the most critical elements of an EAS system – tags.

Effective EAS tags are the lynchpin of the entire system; without high quality tags, retailers simply cannot achieve reliable, consistent detection and effective shrink management. Perhaps that is why EAS is experiencing a revival in the apparel market and EAS tags are back in vogue.

Why EAS technology still matters
EAS anti-shoplifting technology has  been used in retail stores for nearly 50 years to keep inventory protected while encouraging open merchandising. As the store environment has evolved, so too has EAS technology. From high-end designer jeans to high-heel footwear, today innovative new tags can be applied to nearly everything and are available for easy application in-store or at the source to address high-theft, high-velocity categories.

The need to quickly, easily and cost effectively secure inventory is something apparel retailers understand better than anyone. The 2012 Global Retail Theft Barometer report found that shrink cost retailers globally over $112 billion that year alone and the highest rates of shrink were in apparel and fashion accessories. Since shoplifters tend to focus on stealing a fairly small number of popular product lines, retailers have responded by safeguarding their most vulnerable items. As such the study noted the use of EAS tagging grew from a combined total of 35.4 percent in 2007 to 43.9 percent in 2011 when it comes to protecting the 50 most stolen lines.

Today's balancing act
Protecting merchandise is more art than exact science however. At a primary level, EAS is a visual and active deterrent for potential thieves. EAS protects retailers' assets against both the casual thief and the increasing threat of organized retail crime (ORC). Yet there is a balancing act that must happen between preventing and reducing loss and keeping shoppers happy. 

For example, footwear is one of the highest contributors to above average shrink levels in the discount apparel market. While having shoes openly displayed can enhance the customer experience, it can also be a key contributor to increased shrink in this category. Previously, consumers had to contend with tags that were clumsy and conspicuous which hindered the trying on process and ultimately disrupted the overall buying experience. By applying innovative EAS tags, retailers no longer have to choose between making the customer comfortable with a “try before you buy” option or leaving merchandise vulnerable to theft.

To further discourage theft of high-risk, high-value merchandise, new EAS tags are equipped with audible alarming if tampered with or taken out of the exit in the event of a theft. Other tags are specially designed to discreetly protect very small or delicate items, to minimize any impact on merchandising and to enable products to be picked up or tried on by shoppers.

Each and every day retailers fight to ensure merchandise is protected and customers are happy. Thanks to the ongoing evolution of EAS technology they no longer have to choose between one or the other. Today's tags can deliver improvements in inventory management, bolster the customer experience and help apparel retailers win the ongoing battle to reduce shrink.

Nancy Chisholm is vice president and general manager of Tyco Retail Solutions.
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