Imagine that you’re away on vacation. Your home is empty and unguarded, but it’s safely locked tight while you relax on the beach. You promised you’d limit phone time, but despite yourself, you check your messages to find a link a friend has shared with you. It’s an online posting in your hometown stating “House Keys For Sale. Will Work On Any Lock, Any House.” The listing price? $18, with free shipping and a money-back guarantee.
While this wouldn’t be feasible in the residential world, it’s exactly the challenge that the world of retail faces daily.
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In retail, stores spend thousands of labor hours each year applying and removing protective electronic article surveillance (EAS) technologies on products. It’s an elaborate and costly ecosystem, with upfront costs for the tags, wraps, and safers, replacement costs when they wear down or are stolen, labor costs for application and removal, and costs for EAS detection technology at each store exit.
These costs, however, have a tremendous payoff: they deter most kinds of shoplifters and stop an incalculable amount of shoplifting events from ever happening.
They help create and reinforce an overall impression of control, as well as signal to shoppers that the store cares and isn’t “asking for theft.”
There’s an important psychological effect to reinforcing the barrier between “in the store,” where it’s okay to have products you haven’t purchased, and “out of the store.” They deter opportunists; otherwise, honest shoppers who may stumble in to an opportunity to steal that’s too easy to pass up. They deter low-level shoplifters; people who are only trying to steal a few hundred bucks here and there and will go elsewhere if they encounter resistance or obstacles.
But despite all of this, a lingering question keeps retailers up at night:
The primary answer to that question is because can and will are two very different outcomes.
I set out to explore the underground surprisingly accessible world of online shoplifting communities and marketplaces. I was going to try to buy the keys to the castle online, with free shipping.
First things first, I needed to take off my research scientist hat and go at this endeavor with the same set of knowledge and resources that a typical shoplifter would have. No business credentials, no insider knowledge on technologies and where to find them, and no advanced schemes.
I started where I believe a typical shoplifter interested in detachers would, with Google. I conducted a series of Google searches, combined with searches on these online marketplaces:
Several months ago, Loss Prevention Research Council (LPRC) research scientists were able to successfully purchase low-gauss magnetic detachers on Walmart.com. Walmart has since addressed this, as no detacher devices of any kind were available for viewing or purchase on September 5, 2018. The final column below represents the rest of the Internet.
Alibaba and the Personal Shoplifting Concierge
Upon placing an order for a 16,000GS detacher on Alibaba, within 24 hours I received email correspondence from six different suppliers offering to fulfill my order. One supplier was particularly helpful, sending me a friendly email asking what types of tags I “use” so she could ensure she sold me the correct detachers.
She also sought me out on LinkedIn and connected with me there.
This was a curious mix of due diligence and lack of caution, as she had used my ordering email address to find out who I was and seek me out. Also noteworthy is that the price for these tags was very high, at $149 plus $50 shipping.
Our correspondence is captured below. In it, I simulated the experience a potential shoplifter would have, only using information and materials readily available to the public online. No verification or information was required to establish that I was placing a “business order” that could not be easily fabricated—and did not appear to be checked. Her name and business have been anonymized:
#1 First Contact
Hi Mike Giblin,
How are you, this is X from XX Limited.
We are 16000GS eas detacher factory. Please check the attached picture.
You can tell me the tags you use, so we can suggest you the best suitable detacher, different detacher used for different type tags.
Any questions,you can let me know.
#2 My Response
I’d like detachers for the following tags, please let me know what you can sell me:
-https://www.alphaworld.com/en/our-solutions/keys-detachers/multi-detacher/ There is also a version of this that requires a coded key, I’d like that as well if you can get it
-https://all-tag.com/portfolio-items/q-tag/ Will your 16,000 magnet detach this?
Thank you for your help!
#3 Her Response
Hi Mike Giblin,
–The first Turtle ,we think use 16000GS can open it, because we checked the video, it is 9000GS ,and it use the same detacher to open the spider tags. The spider tags can use this 16000GS detacher.
–The LM tags need use their speical detacher,other detacher can not open it.
–We have no the third one (Alpha S3), it is patent (sic).
–The last two likns (sic) can not be opened dear, could (sic) you please send me picture ? thanks.
Any questions,you can let me know.
#4 My Response
#4: Here is the info from the website: The CISSSinc Gen 5 and Decoder can be customized to a unique IR signature for your brand, certain stores or even specialty zones within stores.
#5: Here is the info from the website: Q-Tag® can be RFID, along with AM and RF. It’s also the latest and greatest RFID and EAS solution that combines High Security, Versatility, Efficiency, Safety, and Marketing/Promotion.
” Q-Tag’s size, shape, and the connectivity between the tag and pin make it virtually impossible to be forcibly removed from retail merchandise.
” Q-Tag’s unique stacked RF coil offers superior EAS system detection performance to standard RF coils. Retailers no longer need large EAS tags to achieve adequate detection.
” The patented lock inside of the Q-Tag is built to withstand 110 LBs. of pull force.
For full results, including a complete chart of website results, the resolution of my conversation with X, and the metrics below, come participate in the EAS Detacher Learning Lab Breakout Session at LPRC’s 2018 Impact Conference, October 1-3 in Gainesville, FL. This research will be one of 11 Learning Labs, along with dozens of research results posters and several main-stage presentations.
- Price ($USD)
- Arrival time
- Effectiveness (does it work?)
- Forced account creation vs guest checkout
- What personal information was necessary to complete the order
For more information, visit lpresearch.org/impact/. Register for the conference at: www.eventbrite.com/e/impact-2018-registration-44372002855?aff=es2