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What is Electronic Article Surveillance?

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  • Written By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 07 December 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Electronic article surveillance, or EAS as it is commonly called, is a merchandise tracking technology that store and shop owners use to deter shoplifting. There are several different forms of electronic article surveillance, and the technology comes in a range of complexities. Regardless of the technical details, most systems center on three main elements: a tag, a deactivator, and a sensor. Merchandise is first affixed with a tag or reader of some sort, usually in an inconspicuous place that a sales clerk can remove or deactivate at the point of sale. If a customer attempts to leave the store with goods that have not been purchased and deactivated, an alarm will typically sound at the door.

All EAS technology is based on the active packaging of goods, which is to say that goods that are outfitted with active tracking devices from the moment they hit the sales floor, and sometimes even before. The most common means of tracking is radio-frequency identification. Tags inside of clothes, televisions, books, and other items are outfitted with tiny responders that emit radio waves. The waves are harmless and typically go undetected, unless they are in close range of a receiver programmed to the same frequency. Depending on the store, receivers can sound alarms, trigger doors to close, or silently alert managers.

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Transmitters can also be based on electromagnetic technology. Magnet technology is usually the least expensive to implement. It is commonly used in bar-coding technology and in high turnover transaction areas, like libraries. Magnetic tags can be activated and deactivated repeatedly, so long as the tag remains in tact.

The main goal of electronic article surveillance systems is to deter shoplifting and the illegal removal of goods. It traditionally works best to thwart rookie or unintentional shoplifters. Professional thieves are generally more EAS-savvy. Magnetic tags can be deactivated without much effort by people who know where to look and what to do, and most radio-frequency tags can be removed without harming the goods to which they are attached.

For goods that are very valuable or are otherwise particularly vulnerable to theft, a microwave-based EAS system may be best. Microwave technology is the most expensive, but also the hardest to circumvent: most microwave transmitters are permanently attached with large plastic tags to merchandise. This makes them obvious, but nearly impossible to remove without special equipment.

Cost is a major part of any company’s decision to invest in electronic article surveillance. Many mass-market goods come preinstalled with EAS-ready tags, but it is often up to the individual stores to set up deactivators, sensors, and alarms. To truly protect against intelligent criminals, stores prone to security breaches will often change their frequencies periodically, move the location of tags, or double-up tagging strategies on certain articles. All of this has been shown to boost security, but all of it also comes at a cost. Companies that do not anticipate losing as much as it would cost to maintain an electronic article surveillance system often opt for less expensive security measures, such as video surveillance.

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