Shoplifting in retail outlets is an increasing problem that creates an estimated annual retail deficit of more than $30 billion, but RFID technology can help to track the in-store whereabouts of productions and reduce shoplifting incidents, according to Southeastern Louisiana University business professor and RFID specialist David C. Wyld, who said investigators of organized retail crime are actively researching how RFID technology can help them address the problem of shoplifting.
Wyld's evaluation of RFID's advantageous impact on organized shoplifting appeared in a recent issue of RFID News, a magazine focused on radio frequency identification technology and its use in security, retail, transportation and government agencies.
"The 'five-finger discount' has become an all-too accepted part of the American lexicon," said Wyld, director of Southeastern's Strategic e-Commerce/e-Government Initiative in the College of Business. "Shoplifting is fast-shifting from a crime carried out by individuals to the focus of criminal enterprises. And these organized shopping gangs cause more economic damage to retailers than traditional shoplifters."
Wyld said RFID technology allows retailers, via radio frequency antennas placed inside product packaging or on the product itself, to track the placement, movement and status of store merchandise — making shoplifting a more difficult task.
Organized shoplifting gangs often use large groups of trained shoplifters to steal thousands of dollars worth of merchandise in a single day. Popular items like electronics, pharmaceutical drugs, and infant formula are then sold to stores that intentionally buy stolen goods — online, on the streets, or in illegal underground transactions.
"RFID presents a new weapon, perhaps the 'nuclear option,' to provide retailers with better business intelligence on what's in the store and what has left the store through shoplifting," Wyld said. "In this economy, the criminal and economic trends are intertwining, making leading retailers concerned that they may see acceleration in shoplifting."
Unlike conventional security methods such as closed-circuit cameras and electronic article surveillance that are limited to certain areas and supported by on-floor employees, RFID products can be monitored quickly from a central location. RFID tags can be read at a rate of 100-200 per minute and are expected to replace traditional product barcodes that can be easily blocked by "booster bags," aluminum-lined bags that prevent detection by ordinary anti-theft devices.
Wyld said retail use of RFID would eliminate the need for product tagging and provide dual functions by acting as an item identification device as well as an anti-theft tool.
"The specificity of theft information provided by RFID can enable retailers to improve visibility, which allows them to not only update their inventory more accurately and replace stolen items more quickly, but to also spot trends in theft," he said.
"There is already excitement about the prospects for RFID," Wyld added. "In Europe and the United States, we are seeing exciting in-store application in bookstores, electronics and grocery stores that are bringing about new possibilities for customer service, business intelligence and inventory management."