For as long as there have been products to sell, retailers have been battling the five-finger discount, and along the way they’ve employed all sorts of methods to combat the crime.
In this constantly evolving battleground, one of the most effective strategies developed was Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS), allowing retailers to protect individual products with security tags and be alerted to an incident of theft.
Since they first hit the shop floor in the 1960s, EAS and security tags have become one of the most popular loss prevention tools available, and in the five decades that have ensued they’ve also come a very long way.
Here’s a brief history of EAS and security tags and how they came to be one of the top methods employed in the battle against retail shrink.
Not so humble beginnings
Electronic Article Surveillance had its origins in 1964 when a store manager in Ohio became frustrated with the ongoing problem of shoplifting. After chasing a man who had pilfered bottles of spirits, he reportedly remarked that anyone who could figure out a way to deter such thieves was destined to make a fortune.
Overhearing the comment, his cousin, Jack Welch, enthusiastically embraced the challenge, returning to the store weeks later with a tag taped to a piece of cardboard and a box of electrical components. The creation was rough and ready but demonstrated that if you tried to leave the store with the tag, an alarm would sound.
The super tag 60s
Fast forward two years and the official honour of inventing EAS security tags actually goes to Arthur J. Minasy. He is the inventor credited with creating and patenting a security device that could be attached to items for sale. Manasy’s system was based on Radio Frequency (RF) technology and became the basis for his company Knogo.
By the end of that year, security tags were widely marketed to retailers.
Swept RF and the small label 70s
The 1970s saw major innovations in the world of EAS. By the early 1970s Swept RF technology had been developed, followed by electro-magnetic technology and the ability to create small labels.
The acousto magnetic 80s
Further innovation continued throughout the 1980s with acousto-magnetic technology joining the EAS line-up.
Operating on a lower frequency, it allowed retailers to thwart shoplifters who tried to get around tag security by using foil booster bags.
Then in 1986 Ink tags arrived, featuring a dye pack that would release ink when thieves tampered with the tag. The first incarnation of the technology wasn’t a huge success, but it would go on to be developed into a highly effective benefit denial strategy that now also harnesses the power of EAS.
The source tag 90s
The 1990s saw the rollout of source tagging where retailers now enjoyed the convenience of tags being applied at the point of manufacture. It was quickly embraced by major US retailers like Home Depot and JC Penney.
The past two decades have seen the constant improvement and refinement of EAS.
Security tags and security labels now offer a higher quality solution in a range of sizes that do not impede consumer interaction. They are also more readily integrated with packaging, are more reliable, and are easier to deactivate at the point of sale.
Much of this innovation has been driven by the availability of new technology and smaller components, but it has also been in response to the improved talents of thieves.
As a result, EAS, security labels and tags continue to improve and evolve, and the method remains the most popular form of loss prevention. Employed by 68 per cent of retailers in the US and 73 per cent of retailers globally, it also ranks as one of the most effective strategies, curbing loss by up to 80 per cent.
You can learn more about EAS and selecting the right security tags here.