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Comment: Retail's evolution from humble loss prevention strategy to EAS 2.0

For years, retailers have relied on loss prevention technology to help combat shrinkage and ensure merchandise availability. However, in the current retail landscape, omnichannel retailing is proving an ever pressing thorn in the side of retailers, prompting a need to streamline operations and optimise inventory.

The advantage of shopping in store for customers is that they can experience products before they buy. Shoppers often want to handle items before they make a purchasing decision. This is particularly true of technology such as smartphones, digital cameras, laptops, tablets, as well as apparel items. 

In today's highly competitive retail industry, it is paramount that merchandise is available for shoppers to view, with staff on hand to assist customers. Developments in technology, including electronic article surveillance (EAS), and RFID, now provide retailers with an effective way to engage customers, reduce shrink and boost sales.

It's these changes that got me thinking recently about what the founder of EAS systems would think of those found in 21st century stores. In the early days, ceiling-mounted EAS detectors at the exits would only pick up half the store's tagged items, depending on the weather. Now, RFID-enabled, EAS solutions can ignore anything that isn't moving through the exit. Not only this, it can help retailers to collect useful data, track and trace inventory and help engage with the customer.

It's the data that is defining a new era in loss prevention (LP) technology. With the attachment of an RFID tag, each item can be uniquely accounted for and identified by its attributes, such as size colour and style. Ultimately, this provides retailers with greater inventory control and visibility, enabling them to reduce out of stocks, increase shelf availability, and drive more sales – both in store and online.

Additionally, the same RFID tag, being used for inventory management, can help retailers better manage shrinkage by identifying items that may have been stolen so they can be replenished, further improving inventory accuracy and shelf availability.

The uses of EAS detection systems now extend beyond the LP department. For example, many now include useful features such as people counters, which tell retailers how many people have entered their store. Such information can be distributed amongst other departments, taking advantage of the LP teams' investment. Understanding shopper traffic has well known operational benefits for retailers, but EAS detection systems can also give a great insight into loss prevention and highlight possible risks such as when a shopper's dwell time is high.

What's more, new data centric EAS systems can provide retailers with data analytics about shopper habits, which they can share with their partners to help them understand how advertising and marketing investments' impact the store.    

RFID's maturation into mainstream retailing is illustrated by the uptake from some of the biggest high street establishments. These retailers are seeing a clear reduction in out-of-stocks while increasing the on-shelf availability of items, thus enhancing the customer experience. While, increased visibility through the supply chain helps keep errors to a minimum and stock control accuracy at 95% and 99% efficiency.

More recently, retailers have highlighted the benefits of source tagging, which protects a product from the point of manufacture. Last year, according to the Global Retail Theft Barometer, UK shrinkage totalled £2.7 billion, of which 25.3% was down to shoplifting. A larger proportion, 38.2%, of overall shrink happens somewhere in the supply chain. 

Source tagging acts as a deterrent to theft in-store, the back office or by suppliers, and provides real time data of a product’s exact location. As well as this, source tagging reduces the time staff spend individually tagging items, and allows more freedom to provide in-store assistance. 

Source tagging can streamline the operations of retailers by accelerating speed-to-shelf, reducing handling costs and aiding self-service formats.  It ensures the uniform and universal protection of merchandise and also offers a wide range of additional benefits, including, guaranteed compliance, protected brand integrity, reduced staff costs, improved loss prevention, increased merchandise availability, enhanced customer shopping experience and improved profits. 

What was once considered an anti-theft investment, is fast becoming an additional way to measure consumer habits which can only improve shopper engagement and lead to improved sales.  The available technology has moved past simply responding to EAS antennas alarms in store, and is fast helping to shape the future of the retail environment and improve on the customer shopping experience.

EAS 2.0 is about making smart decisions in store to gain time and be more efficient. Once you've identified where it hurts, you'll spot the key challenges you're facing both internally, externally and take the most appropriate action.   

The evolution of EAS helps retailers gain a clearer picture of their loss prevention systems right across their estate, using information to make informed decisions on the improvements needed, driving efficiency and saving time. 

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