Stagnant EAS?

Over the past several months, as I have spoken with retail loss prevention executives across the spectrum of retail – specialty, big box, mall-based, strip center – I’ve had several bring up the issue of the current status of electronic article surveillance (EAS). In several cases, they have expressed, either directly or indirectly, a sense of disappointment with the stagnation around the current use of EAS. After spending millions of dollars investing in the technology over the past years, it is as if everyone is waiting for a new “magic bullet” or breakthrough advancement in the technology.

Perhaps that disappointment is what gave way to the hyper-excitement around the possibility of RFID at the item-level. Now that most have settled into the idea that RFID is not “just around the corner” for their organization, they are back to EAS, a relatively mature product. Improvements can certainly be made in EAS deployment. Source tagging in its various forms is still an area that some segments are pursuing, with many apparel retailers looking forward with anticipation to deploying hard, visible source tags (VST) in their supply chain. New types of tags and application methods are constantly being developed or improved. Yet, this sense of ennui remains.

Maybe we should consider the statement: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Is it possible that we are looking for the next big thing to take responsibility away from ourselves for better executing our current EAS program and investment? For instance, how many organizations know the following:

  • What is your EAS pick rate in the real-world (how often the EAS alarm goes off when a tag goes through the antenna)?
  • What is the response rate (how often an EAS alarm is responded to by and associate)?
  • What is the response time to an EAS alarm at your front-end (time between alarm and contact with customer)?
  • What is the quality of the response by an associate if they do respond? Do they check the merchandise to the receipt or follow your policies?
  • How many false alarms do you have in your store?
  • What is the cause of the false alarms?

Studies have shown that less than 10 percent to 15 percent of all EAS alarms are responded to by employees. We have probably all experienced this lack of response as consumers where we have seen EAS alarms ignored or where employees of the retail establishment simply wave on customers with a comment like, “Oh, just go on, this happens all of the time.”

It seems to me that the credibility of EAS systems and alarms are at stake and we are not doing our part in better managing this segment even though we have invested in the technology and have seen the benefit that it can bring about with shrinkage. But, we have become bored. In fact, our move towards source tagging has perhaps contributed to this phenomenon as we have shifted this responsibility for tagging to our manufacturers and, as a result, have less invested operationally in the execution of the program.

Do EAS providers have a role to play in improving the technology and providing analytic tools to assist? Of course they do. Should we keep our eye on the developments occurring with RFID and how it might impact our part of the business? Of course. But, first, we should hold up a mirror to our own efforts.


Originally published in RILA Report – Asset Protection – July 2008

2 Responses to Stagnant EAS?
  1. Bryan
    May 20, 2009 | 11:00 AM

    Here’s a better question — does EAS actually work?

    i.e. is this a sound investment financially?

  2. Kevin Smith
    May 28, 2009 | 11:25 AM


    The answer to your question is…it depends. Not all types of environments are right for EAS. I as worked as an RLPM for a large chain of convenience stores and we installed hundreds of EAS systems. After a few years we pulled them out. Total disaster. We soon discovered that if there is no response to the alarm they become totally ineffective.

    On the other hand sites like Target, Walmart, etc. are ideal because they have a dedicated employee to respond to every alarm thereby creating a preventive program which truly is the heart of LP. Each location needs to be evaluated before a decision should be made to install a system.