The Digital Way To Kill EAS Tags And Keep 'Em Dead

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EAS tags have an annoying tendency to come back to life after being deactivated. That's embarrassing for the shopper who sets off the alarm, but it's far more embarrassing for the LP executive whose people grow tired of the false alarms and start ignoring them—especially at peak times. One EAS vendor on Tuesday (Nov. 13) tried to end the LP Frankenstein monsters by switching to a digital—rather than a mechanical—tag mechanism, one that can be fully fried by the typical 10-volt deactivation pad jolt.

"We make this happen at the nano level, leveraging very very small geometries," said Amir Mashkoori, CEO of EAS vendor Kovio.

The tags are soft tags and Kovio's approach is to try and get manufacturers to embed them deep within shoes and other clothing so they are not visible to the shopper, which makes the removal of the devices almost impossible without severely damaging the product. Mashkoori argues that this could change many standard retail tactics, such as having only one shoe on the floor and forcing the associate to go to the backroom to get the mate.

The way existing EAS tags—both hard and soft—reactivate is by the position of tiny elements. When the elements are apart, the alarm rings. The deactivation system brings them together. But through washing and walking (in the case of shoes), the elements can slowly reposition to the point where they are again apart and, therefore, active.

By switching to a digital system, Mashkoori said, there's no way for the tag to be reactivated once it is properly fried. And that proper frying comes courtesy of the same pads that, today, deactivate mechanical EAS tags. This was done to try and minimize the cost and to preserve investments.

The problem with this approach, which certainly is a key step in the right direction, is that it is designed for the current cashwrap stationary POS model. In a mobile in-aisle checkout model—or a self-checkout apparel approach, such as the one Walmart has experimented with—that 10-volt deactivation pad becomes downright unwieldy.

Mashkoori pointed to portable deactivators, but there are two inefficiencies with that. First, either they have to be carried or lots of them have to be scattered throughout the store. As for lots of them being scattered throughout the store, these are units whose sole purpose is to deactivate anti-shoplifting devices. Yeah, you want them under strict control.

That means the pads have to be carried. In the short term, that's fine. But the beauty of mobile transactions being able to happen anywhere in the store won't be helped by this bit of lugging.

The second inefficiency is workflow interruption. After scanning, deactivation is a separate effort. And if an associate forgets, you get even more false alarms.

Given that the soft tags are digital, why not consider a system where the POS—upon purchase completion—can wirelessly deactivate the soft tags and do so automatically?

No, we're not talking about a mobile-issued 10-volt zap. Other than it requiring more power than many phones can safely handle, Mashkoori goes back to the anti-theft concept. "You don't want this capability in a mobile phone, (with customers) going around deactivating everything," he said.

But simply including a self-destruct element in the tag that can be triggered by a secure signal from the POS, one that would presumably be difficult for a shoplifter to replicate, is a good option.

It's a few years away, though. For now, anything that cuts down on EAS false alarms is worth considering.