Online readers help retailers take shoplifting in their own hands

To identify stolen goods online and in-store, retailers are increasingly using radio frequency identification tags.

Online readers help retailers take shoplifting in their own hands

Marie Hartley, 33, a Huntington, Indiana retail worker who loves to find bargains, was shocked to discover a tag with a metallic squiggle attached on a bra she bought online from Victoria's Secret back in January.

These tags were previously purchased from Walmart and Victoria's Secret stores. She had not seen an item with this tag in an online purchase since she stopped shopping in stores during the pandemic.

She said, "I'm used to the large, bulky, anti-theft ones." "The thinner, lighter versions are barely noticeable.

Retailers are now looking to make the tags on blouses and jeans that were just picked up from the rack more secure. This is in response to a series of high-profile thefts.

According to security experts, only 15% of retailers have adopted the radio frequency identification (or RFID) technology to track shoplifters. However, there are no data available to determine how many.

Brooke Wilson, a spokeswoman for Victoria's Secret, stated that the company attaches tags to online orders in order to track merchandise throughout its supply chain. She also said that the tags are being tested to prevent theft.

"What you're now seeing across retail and the staffing difficulties for law enforcement are a greater need to have retailers package the cases to conduct all the investigation," Joe Coll (Vice President of Asset Protection and Operations at Macy's) said last week during a webinar hostedby the trade publication RFID Journal. RFID gives you this ability.

While retailers claim the technology is useful in preventing theft and inventory tracking, some consumers are worried about privacy. Privacy advocates worry that shoppers could be tracked inside stores without their consent, even though the tags can be removed at any time by customers after they have left the store.

Eric Null, director for the privacy and data project at the Center for Democracy and Technology said that RFID tags are "essentially just a bit of technology and they have a little data which is usually a unique IDr." Anyone with access to an RFID reader can track the RFID wherever it goes, if they wish.

He said RFID can have privacy implications because it allows companies to track shoppers inside their stores to deliver very targeted ads based on their movement patterns and whether or not they linger.

Retail security experts say this technology isn't very sophisticated. This technology does not permit retailers to track customers' movements if they are wearing the clothing. It also cannot track lost or stolen items. RFID chips, however, require special reader guns to read the information. These reader guns can only be used from 10-30 feet away. He said that this would make it almost impossible to read the tags from faraway without an RFID gun.

Read Hayes, director at the Loss Prevention Research Council, stated that "What's going to be attached" to a file is not as simple as you think. He said that tags can include data like the size and color of clothing and shoes. It's not "I'm Read Hayes. This is my address, and this is what I earn. '"

Changing plastic

In retail stores, RFID tags were originally made of hard plastic pins that were attached to products. These pins couldn't be removed by a clerk at the checkout counter without a magnetic device. They are now small metal prints that appear on a cloth tag, along with the garment's size and cleaning information. Each device has a tracking number that is associated with the item's model, size, or color.

The RFID tags were traditionally used by retailers to track the products in their supply chains and alert staff when items are low or need to be restocked. Retailers are now using RFID tags to fight theft, as RFID tagging has become more common. After purchasing an item, customers can take the tags off.

According to Karina Frayter (a company spokesperson), Macy's was one of the first to adopt RFID technology. Coll explained that the department store installed "smart-exit" sensors at both employee and customer store exits. These are equipped with technology to identify a tag's number. Macy's can review video footage to determine who stole the merchandise if the store suspects it was stolen, Coll said.

He referred to the Transportation Security Administration.

Coll stated that the technology helps Macy's identify which items are most likely to be stolen during what seasons and repeat shoplifters. The company discovered that shoplifters were walking out of stores with piles of coats in the summer.

Growing problem

According to asset protection specialists, the retail market has been demanding more secure technology over the past two years.

Organized retail theft is a deliberate act of stealing from shops by a group of people. This has been a problem in the retail sector for years. However, the media attention on some of the most violent thefts has diminished and retailers have the ability to use sophisticated security technology to keep their stores safe while still offering a pleasant shopping experience for customers, according Wouter Ubbels (Vice President of Sales at Nedap), a Dutch retail RFID company that works with Sephora and Under Armour.

He said that the importance of a store's appearance and customer experience has increased. "Security is forced to be more innovative because it's no longer allowed to show that your customers may be thieves."

Although the technology is not perfect, these RFID tags enable retailers to track inventory that has gone missing. This helps store managers detect theft. The RFID tags give retailers real-time information about inventory on the floor and whether employees gave refunds or store credits for merchandise they never purchased. It can also be used for spot fraud in returns, where an individual steals merchandise from one store and then attempts to return it to another store to get a refund or credit.

Tony D'Onofrio is the CEO of Prosegur Security, a global security company. He stated that retailers have been working with them to improve their tagging systems in order to gather more information for police during investigations.

He stated that retailers want to move more quickly. "With how communication is now, it's imperative that we move more aggressively.

Consumer fears

Consumer advocates are concerned that RFID-enabled security solutions will be adopted by retailers quickly. However, they raise concerns about the possibility of retailers using such tags for marketing purposes without consent from shoppers.

Null stated that stores can use the tags to collect anonymous information about shopper behavior in store to gain more insight into consumer preferences and preferences, without their consent. He said that retailers could also share this tracking data with third parties.

He wrote an email saying that consent is essential (and the minimum requirement) for tracking individuals' physical locations.

Numerous retailers have already experimented with RFID tags for consumer behavior analysis and marketing. Burberry introduced RFID tagging to select merchandise in its flagship store at London's Regent Street. This can trigger an advertisement or television display if the tag crosses a sensor. Burberry didn't respond to NBC News’ request for comment.

Rebecca Minkoff launched a new line of smart bags one year later. They are equipped with an RFID tag that customers can use in their stores and a QR code that allows shoppers interact with the company online about the product or to receive information about special offers. NBC News reached out to Rebecca Minkoff for comment but she did not respond.

According to Hayes, of Loss Prevention Research Council Hayes said that shoppers are usually comfortable giving up some information for convenience or entertainment.

He said that online purchases are more private than brick and mortar, as companies don't just ship out items anonymously.

Null stated that regulations regarding RFID tracking technology are patchy. Since 2009, Europe has developed extensive regulations regarding RFID technology. This includes requiring retailers to inform customers about RFID technology and the data collected. Some states in the United States have laws that prevent unauthorized access to RFID chips' data, such as California, Nevada and Washington. However, shoppers are mostly at the mercy of retailers' voluntary disclosures.

Null stated that there is a risk of people not being aware. "The privacy policy is the only thing that limits people's knowledge, and most people don’t know about privacy policies from retailers."

Hartley stated that she is not concerned about tracking but concerns about potential health risks. The World Health Organization reviewed scientific literature and found no evidence that low-level electromagnetic fields can cause health problems such as those required to read RFID tags. She believes that shoppers should be aware.

She stated that she believes in individual responsibility and personal choice. "I believe it is important for a person to be aware what is around them."


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