Department Store EAS Systems: Why They Don't Impact Shoplifting

They Look Good, but They're Not Very Effective

They're Big, Bulky and Largely Ignored

Electronic Article Surveillance (or EAS) is a fancy name for those big, metal or plastic posts you see at the entrance and exit doors of department stores, supermarkets, shopping malls, etc. They're supposed to let you know when a shoplifter has concealed an item and (in a perfect world) will beep when he/she leaves the store. EAS is a deterrent-or it's supposed to be a deterrent to shoplifting. It's never worked in my opinion and they've always been more trouble than they are worth. Real shoplifters laugh when they see an EAS system. They're so defeatable that during daily tests at one store, we could smuggle out merchandise 9 out of 10 times.

The EAS system is simple in structure. The posts one walks through on the way in or out of the store detect a sticky (or hard plastic) tag affixed to the product. When a tag is detected by the system, it's supposed to beep and alert the store that an item might be walking out without being paid for.

Here's the EAS protocol for every store I worked in that had them. These are the rules the store tells you to follow, although the process varies from company to company.

1.) Shopper goes through the door and the system beeps (or yells at you) alerting you to return to the store.

2.) A clerk asks the shopper to walk through the posts again.

3.) If the system activates when the person walks through , the clerk is then supposed to ask the shopper if "there is something they may have forgotten to pay for"

4.) The shopper may give up the item at this point and say something like, "Oh, I changed my mind and no longer wish to purchase this $20 package of razor blades. Have a good day" The customer leaves the store and the razor blades are returned to the shelf.

5.) If the customer refuses to walk back into the store, the clerk is advised to do nothing-except perhaps make a notation in a special notebook that a customer has refused to stop,

Here's what really happens:

The customer walks through the door. The system goes off and the customer continues on his/her way. A store employee may turn his/her head towards the door, but for the most part, the alarm is ignored. The customer walks on his.her way. No one stops them. The system gets dusty and covered with cobwebs. You lose your razor blades several times a day.

Here's why that happens:

The EAS pedestals only work for honest customers. Honest people are the ones who come back into the store and get a tag removed or have one deactivated. Lots of factors can affect a false positive. The customer may have a tag on them from a purchase in another store, there may be a problem with the system itself, the pedestals may be too close together, the system may be located too close to a fire alarm system (I learned that from an EAS tech) and some EAS tags are built directly into the heels and soles of some shoes and may go off at one store, but not another. Sometimes cards that swipe and open a locked door at your hotel, condo or place of business can set them off. That's why you can't stop a suspected shoplifter when the beeper goes off. There's too many mistakes that can be made-and mistakes can sometimes turn into lawsuits. When the buzzer goes off-the shoplifter walks free.Employees know this and basically ignore the system.

Sometimes mistakes are made by the cashier. Have you ever had to return to the same store (or another) to have one of those hard plastic tags (gator tags) removed from your new clothing purchase? It happens, which is another reason one must be polite and business-like if they decide to ask someone to return inside. Accuse or upset an honest customer and you'll never see them again.

Some shoplifters have come up with ingenious ways to defeat EAS, The easiest way, of course, is to remove the sticky tag on whatever it is you're buying. Clothing (using gator tags) is more difficult, but they can be removed by either purchasing a tag remover from a retail associate or eBay, or perhaps walking over to an empty register and doing it yourself. I tell you this, not so you'll attempt to start a life of crime, but so you'll realize just how ineffective EAS (and the stores that use them) is/are. Some shoplifters simply hold the item(s) they are stealing over the top of the pedestals, as cashiers sometimes leave the pads active. The best method I've seen is a woman who attempted to steal 50 DVD's by using a shopping bag lined with several layers of aluminum foil and duct tape. It's called a Booster Bag. She didn't get away with it. She may have defeated the EAS, but I saw her conceal the discs and walk out. The police also charged her with using the bag.

Why Keep the Systems at the Doors when they're ineffective?

3 reasons.

1.) It's company policy

2.) They look good. It does actually look better than nothing being there.)

3.) The stores have contracts in place with the EAS manaufacturers. The last store I worked in (a supermarket chain) had a deal where the pedestals were installed for free as long as a certain amount of EAS tags were purchased during the year. Tags are EXPENSIVE. The store managers hate to pay for them out of their low budgets and the Loss Prevention Departments insist on their use. It's a never ending battle.

Ask any store manager how many people he/she has tagging merchandise each day in an effort to reduce theft in their stores and they'll probably laugh. EAS compliance is a VERY low priority in the big chains. The only times you'll see employees tagging merchandise is when they fail a loss prevention audit. Then they move their butts for a few weeks or so, until they fail the next audit.

Fortunately today, most tags are built into high risk products. Guess who pays for this protection? That's correct.

Happy Shopping!

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Comments 9 comments

Cris A profile image

Cris A 8 years ago from Manila, Philippines

Now I know what to do next time I do a Winona! LOL Great hub, as usual! As for the lady who got caught, the moral is "start small, you can always come back anytime" :D

rockinjoe profile image

rockinjoe 8 years ago from Standing right behind you! Author

lol, thanks, Cris A. There was a woman who used to shoplift all the time at this one chain store I worked for. She was caught several times with small stuff. I used to call her Winona.

jim10 profile image

jim10 8 years ago from ma

I once got home with a tag on a new jacket. The thing never went off and the employee missed taking it off. It was a huge pain to get off.

pgrundy 8 years ago

Once I walked out of a K-Mart with a Beatles CD I hadn't paid for--it wasn't a single CD either, it was that big collected-works thingie they came out with awhile back. I walked through the metal Stargate hoops too--not only that, I walked through them openly holding the CD collection in one hand because I was absentmindedly carrying it--I wasn't trying to steal it, I'm just a space ranger. I'd like to say I walked back in and admitted my mistake but I was embarrassed so I kept it. So technically, I guess I stole that. Don't turn me in. Please.

rockinjoe profile image

rockinjoe 8 years ago from Standing right behind you! Author

Hi Jim. You can usually walk into any store and they'll take a tag off for you-even if they didn't sell you the item. I'm glad you didn't ruin your jacket.

rockinjoe profile image

rockinjoe 8 years ago from Standing right behind you! Author

Ahhh! The space ranger defense. I know it well, pgrundy. It's also known as the "oops", the "uh oh", and the "duh". I'm glad you didn't get caught. Though, if you did, you could have always sang Help! on the way back to the office.

compu-smart profile image

compu-smart 8 years ago from London UK

Im not saying ANYTHING until my lawer is present! :D

Kay 4 years ago

I know this is quite an old article, but i'm just wondering, do you know why the woman using the booster bag did not get away with it? Unless she tumbled and spilled out all the DVD's, i thought those often worked if you did them right.

rockinjoe profile image

rockinjoe 4 years ago from Standing right behind you! Author

The article is old, but I update it often. The booster bag didn't work for two reasons. One, it was constructed poorly, Two, I was already watching her. remember what the charge was called.

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