Paper tags like these are disposable and widely used with radio frequency systems.

EAS System Components

In addition to the all-important gates or pedestals you walk through, the most important components of EAS systems include the following:

  • Disposable tags -- Disposable paper tags and labels are available in many different types -- pressure-sensitive labels with simulated bar codes, tags or labels that can be imprinted with price, inventory, promotional or bar-code information, and tags specially designed for products such as earrings, compact discs and cosmetics, which are all items easily pocketed by shoplifters. These thin, adhesive-backed labels can be as small as a paper clip and can be easily disguised to look like standard retail tags. Most importantly, the radio frequency tags, unlike tags connected to some electromagnetic sensors, can't be disrupted by common magnets.

You'll find these reusable tags on most apparel.

  • Reusable tags -- Probably the most familiar reusable tag is the hard, plastic tag (known as an alligator) attached to most apparel and armed with an almost impossible to defeat locking mechanism -- it can also be a pain if it's attached to the wrong part of a garment you want to try on! This off-white, pin-connected tag requires a special detacher unit to remove it. (If you've ever had a clerk accidentally leave one of these on your purchase -- sometimes a tag buried in a bag-full of stuff can go through the sensor without detection, store clerks say -- you know that you cannot get that thing off at home! Some department stores offer a terrific, public relations service: if their clerk fails to remove this tag from your purchase, the store will send someone to your home with a removal device. This means you can wear that new dress to the event you bought it for!) Other reusable tags you might have seen include plastic devices without pins (they use a foam rubber pad! and abrasive strip to grip garment firmly without causing damage), lightweight colored tags encased in clear plastic, flexible tags printed with a simulated bar code, and fluid tags.
  • Benefit denial tags -- This is a fluid tag. If you steal an item with this kind of tag, you're going to get an unpleasant surprise when you try to remove it in the dressing room or later at home. The ingenious tags have been designed to break and release fluid -- usually colored indelible inks -- onto the garment (working even against gravity) and on you if you try to forcibly remove it. The idea is that a shoplifter is being denied any benefit from his/her crime and will not be able to use or sell the item because it has now been ruined. Store clerks use electronic scanners to deactivate tags on your purchase.
  • Deactivators and detachers -- Desirable qualities in deactivators include a large deactivation zone and 100 percent deactivation with no false alarms. The type of electronic deactivator depends upon the kind of EAS system and tags used by the store. We're all familiar with hand-held scanners and flat scanner pads used to swipe and deactivate merchandise tags. Traditionally, scanners must touch a label directly to use specific frequency to deactivate it. But with the growing use of source tagging (hiding identification tags somewhere on an item or in its packaging) proximity deactivators, or verifiers that don't require contact with a label, are becoming more important. There are also mass or bulk deactivators, which bring EAS labels from an inactive state to an active state while the products are still packaged in master cartons or cases. A plus of state-of-the-art deactivation devices is that they can be integrated into all of the commercially available bar code scanners. (See How UPC Bar Codes Work) so that clerks are scanning the product code at the same time they're deactivating the security circuit. To remove most hard tags, a detacher/releaser is necessary. Today's detachers, which basically unlock the tags, are designed so that they cannot be copied or purchased by shoplifters. Some detachers are hand-held; others are fixed -- most are simple devices with no moving parts, something that makes them very durable.
  • Radio frequency identification (RFID) -- RFID is used in a variety of ways today, including automating toll collection and decreasing time at the gas pump. RF technology experts say RFID is the way of the future in the retail security arena as soon as the application software is in place. Checkpoint Systems has collaborated with Mitsubishi Materials Corp. to develop RF intelligent tagging, which combines an integrated circuit with an RF antenna to deliver a tag capable of simultaneously storing and processing information about a product while protecting the product from theft. (It can even identify a shoplifter who comes back in wearing a stolen item, since only the security portion of the tag is turned off when an item is purchased. The RFID tag is always on!) Researchers say this technology could someday mean that we don't have to unload our grocery carts for checkout -- the system could gather the information it needs from each item while it remains in the shopping cart!
  • Accessories and other products -- In addition to selling hundreds of different types of labels, label applicators, security pins, locking devices for ink tags and security lanyards for use with EAS systems, some companies even offer "dummy" or inactive EAS tags and systems. Retail Security Products claims these tags and labels can be used as stand-alone deterrents to theft, with inactive EAS pedestals or in conjunction with a live EAS system on lower priced items. (They sold over 20 million of the dummy tags -- at 1/3 cents each -- to retailers across the United States last year, they say.) Other manufacturers and experts warn that dummy labels, if used, should be easily distinguishable only to shop personnel.