Ian Eeles of EAS Distributors introduces retail tagging.

12 September 2011

We have asked Ian Eeles, MD of tagging manufacturer and distributor EAS Distributors Ltd, to introduce us to the tagging systems currently available. In this first article Ian explains the issues that face this relatively under exposed part of the security market.

Tagging or Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS) has become standard practice on goods throughout the retail industry and as a result, tag manufacturing has become a boom industry. Whilst this boom gives tag customers greater product choice, it necessitates detailed product knowledge on the part of the tag buyer, to ensure correct product function and quality. This article aims to provide buyers with the information they need to make appropriate product choices.

Tags fall into three main categories – reusable, disposable and ink. At EAS we supply all three types and their corresponding aerial systems and deactivators, so we are well placed to give good advice to prospective buyers.

Reusable tags. These are usually made of plastic and metal. They are attached to an article of clothing or product by the retailer, using a pin or lanyard. They have to be detached and removed by the retailer at the point of sale. Reusable tags contain a passive electronic circuit inside, which would be detected by tag sensors or aerials located at the retailers’ doorways activating an alarm. Typical examples of this type of tag include those found on clothes or around spirit bottles.

Disposable tags. These are usually glued to lower value, individual products or their packaging. They are deactivated by the retailer at the point of sale and removed by the customer, after leaving the shop. Examples of these tags include a sticky variety fixed onto DVD and CD wrappers and product labels containing bar coding information. Disposable tags are usually attached to products by the goods manufacturer (source tagging) before they even reach the retailer and their cost is incorporated in the goods themselves.

Both the reusable and disposable tags require an aerial to be installed at the shop exit points. Aerials use different radio frequencies to create a magnetic “field”. When the tag circuit enters this field it is immediately detected and an alarm is raised, if the tag has not been deactivated or removed first. The general rule of thumb is that the disposable, smaller and cheaper tags require the more powerful (and so more expensive) aerial detectors. The number of doors requiring coverage, their widths and the value or type of goods being tagged also play a significant part in system selection and design.

The final common tag type is the ink based “vials”. These release a staining ink if they are not removed correctly by the retailer, marking goods.

Product tagging is designed to protect retailers from theft. For product tagging to be effective the tags must activate exit sensors reliably or cause visible staining, in the case of ink tags. They must also be easy to remove or deactivate, using specific machinery, but impossible to remove otherwise. Finally, to give good return on investment, tags must be highly reusable.

At EAS, our experience has shown us, that there are a number of manufacturing issues that need to be considered in order to avoid ineffective products. The following faults are ones we have seen time and again and are the ones buyers should be aware of when choosing tags and tagging systems.

Poorly made or poorly tuned electronic tag circuits. These will result in poor pick up rates allowing tagged goods to be removed without detection.

Ill fitting tag parts, especially relating to pins and locking mechanisms. These faults will result in tags either falling off, meaning you will lose products to theft, or the tags becoming impossible to remove meaning you will lose products to damage instead.

Pins of an incorrect length. This results in poor tag function with tags too tightly fitted, falling off or being too easy to prise off.

Low quality pin material. This will result in bending or snapping – usually stopping the tag being used again.

Poor quality plastic. This results in the tags being structurally weak and in some cases having unsightly discolouration. Poor welding or joining of plastic parts has the same effect, meaning that tags will be easy to break and remove.

Ink vials that are too thin and fragile. This fault will result in unnecessary product damage or worse still, damage to customers clothing whilst shopping.

Unspecified ink vial contents. This must be checked to establish customer and staff safety and avoid would-be thieves claiming damages from you for personal or clothing damage!

Poorly made products traded under established brand names. Check that the products supplied to you are the genuine article.

The potential to buy substandard products is currently very high as more and more suppliers enter the market. Unknown brand names sell at lower and lower prices, often cutting corners on quality, to save on product build costs. I recommend asking the following questions to reduce the risk of being caught out by poor products:

How long has the tagging company served the market? It stands to reason that an established company is likely to be supplying quality products – or it wouldn’t still exist.

Find out which other retailers use their tags, or even ask for references – and then speak to them. This quick bit of market research will soon establish customer satisfaction.

What services does the company provide to its customers? For example, is there someone you can talk to about their products in your own language?

Does the company have product warranties and what is their returns policy?

How does the company operate its quality control procedures? Is there a quality control department and if so what product testing do they do? You may also like to ask if the products they supply are patented to give an indicator of how much work has gone into their design and the capability of the company itself.

Finally, before you ask a tagging company for advice on system design, see what different systems they offer to ensure they have a complete range.

At EAS, we believe a quality tagging system could easily last for 10 years.

Good luck!

EAS Distributors are one of the UK’s leading and longest established EAS tagging systems and tag distributors. They offer support to installers wanting to add tagging to their portfolio of services or handling complex applications and hold a complete range of tagging systems in stock for fast delivery.