How retail technology could end shoplifting

9th Jan 2017

Recent developments in retail technology have solved many problems. There are now faster deliveries, smoother production lines and speedier stocktaking techniques.

But what about one of the biggest problems retailers face every day? Shoplifting increased by 3% last year in the UK, with over 330,214 offences. Thankfully, retail technology may finally have advanced enough to soon end shoplifting for good.


Anti-shoplifting tech of the past

Retailers have relied on CCTV to catch shoplifters in the past, and many of them still do with great results. Just the presence of cameras may be enough to deter would-be shoplifters, and cameras are very useful for tracking down and catching criminals who have already stolen from a store. As long as live feeds are closely monitored by a security guard, criminals can be stopped mid-theft.

Another traditional anti-shoplifting technology are radio frequency (RF) tags. RF tags are placed on valuable items and they set off alarm systems when carried past detectors at a storefront.

Like CCTV, nearly all high street retailers use this technology, yet shoplifting remains prevalent. Known as electronic article surveillance (EAS), this method is sometimes effective, but mass adoption and lack of attention to detail from some cashiers has led to the phenomenon of ‘tag pollution’.

Shoppers and retailers alike will have seen and often experienced the effects of tag pollution. Since so many shoppers carry around bags with deactivated RF tags in them, false alarms are set off so frequently that some retailers pay little attention to them.

Smarter CCTV to keep offenders out of stores

CCTV used solely for surveillance will never put an end to shoplifting, but smarter CCTV could vastly reduce the crime statistics. Research from the Ministry of Justice shows that shoplifters are a large part of the 90% of criminals who reoffend.

If CCTV cameras start to use facial recognition technology, convicted shoplifters could be identified upon entry and ejected from a store before they have a chance to reoffend.

From RF to RFID

A better way to combat shoplifting is through improving RF EAS. A simple way to do that is to use RFID EAS. While RF tags emit a radio signal that simply triggers an alarm, RFID tags emit unique signals that can include anything from alarm activation to information about the size, shape and colour of an item.

Most importantly in this situation, RFID tags can tell you if an item came from your own store or another one. With this development, tag pollution suddenly becomes less of a problem. When an alarm goes off, retailers will know whether the customer is carrying a foreign RF tag, or an RFID tag from their own store, and act appropriately.

RFID technology is so advanced that research has even suggested that its implementation could allow for completely unattended stores to become viable, without shoplifting risk.

Integrating a payment system with RFID tags and scanners could allow for retailers to charge customers as they walk out of the door carrying their items. If this were to be developed and implemented nationwide, shoplifting would truly be a thing of the past.