EAS, RF, and AM technology

Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS) has been around for over 40 years in various technology formats, although recently there have been two dominant technologies Acousto Magnetic (AM) and Radio Frequency (RF) at the forefront of the industry. While both technologies share the same loss prevention goals, there is one key difference between them;  the frequency on which they operate, measured in hertz.

While AM was initially the preferred frequency for EAS, recent trends have seen a swing towards RF, with many within the loss prevention industry seeing RF as the future of EAS.

How EAS works

The basic principle of EAS has not changed too dramatically since the 1960s; it works on the premise that merchandise is fitted with an electronic tag or label that communicates with an in-store antenna, usually positioned near the entry/exit of a store.

When that tag comes into range of the antenna, an alarm sounds, alerting store management that an item is illegally leaving the store. When items are sold legitimately, the cashier either deactivates a label or physically removes the tag, meaning no alarm will sound when an item has been properly processed at the point of sale.

While this holds true today, the real advances have taken place since the widespread introduction of digitally based software-controlled solutions, especially within the RF world.


Even better loss prevention

Improvements in CPU capacity have advanced the technical operating capability of RF systems to a much higher level, with the latest technology using secure wireless communications instead of hard-wired cabling. Longer detection ranges are allowing for wider aisles (the gaps between antennas) of up to 2.7m/8.85ft (NEO antenna range from Checkpoint). Software filtering reduces false alarms and enables better alarm integrity than ever before, and remote connectivity reduces any system down-time to minutes or hours rather than hours and days.

The range of design options and additional functionality has also increased, with new models in RF being added every year, with an emphasis on designing specifically for retail verticals, including grocery retailing designs that suit that environment, which is very different from that of an apparel boutique for example.


Deactivating tags at the POS

Deactivating or removing the tag once the product has been legitimately purchased is a crucial part of the EAS process. For many retailers, their EAS system must fit around customer experience, certainly not hindering it. In fact, recent research by Checkpoint among its customers showed that retailers are more likely to favor customer satisfaction or speed at the checkout than security[1].

For many retailers, an EAS system that slows down the checkout, and potentially negatively impacts customer experience, isn’t going to work for them.


Environmental considerations

Environmental issues, such as the need to reduce energy consumption, are increasingly appearing in retailers’ strategic objectives, meaning EAS must also conform to these requirements. RF systems are keeping pace, by reducing the overall energy required to operate them by 70% per store versus AM technology, coupled with intelligent power switching software that can reduce consumption even further.


Security tag development

Probably the biggest single advantage and deployment has been around the type and format of tags used to protect different products. For grocery, we now enjoy a huge range of tagging options for all product types, including labels that are food-safe, microwave-safe, and can even be applied to metal containers including cans.

A retailer can no longer argue that security tagging won’t work because the tags can’t be applied to everything. That might have been the case in the past, but EAS providers like Checkpoint have worked hard to develop and test new tag types that can be applied to any product inside any packaging.


RFID as loss prevention

EAS systems continue to evolve, and the increased application of RFID tag technology will drive developments further, overcoming some of the early issues associated with using RFID as EAS, to ensure it becomes the natural successor to RF. That transition is, for grocery retailers, probably still some way off. RFID will need to meet a performance/price point for it to supersede RF as the most cost-effective form of product protection for the grocery sector.


Next time…

…we investigate in more detail the options for protecting more products, looking at specific security labels and their applications. If you’re a retailer interested in EAS and wondering whether your products can be effectively protected, make sure that you catch the next chapter in this series.



[1] Checkpoint customer survey, June 2021