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Alarm bells are ringing in the High Street over the high number of false alarms

Alarm bells are ringing for retailers to improve their customer service at store entries after new consumer research reveals that 57% of shoppers felt embarrassed by false alarms sounding on security tags in their bags.


Alarm bells are ringing in the High Street over the high number of false alarms

Alarm bells are ringing for retailers to improve their customer service at store entries after new consumer research reveals that 57% of shoppers felt embarrassed by false alarms sounding on security tags in their bags.

The every day scenario is all too familiar: a customer is leaving a store and the door alarm is triggered causing a flurry of embarrassment and accusatory stares from fellow shoppers while security personnel or store staff attempt to ‘de-activate’ the situation.

The problem is called ‘tag pollution’ and is caused by electronic article surveillance tags (EAS) not being de-activated at the point of sale or even in another store from that where the alarm has sounded.

Retailers are well aware of the issue, but until now have relied on anecdotal evidence of the growing problem. Now the new research suggests that customers are more alarmed about being stopped than retailers are aware.

The independent research of more than 300 shoppers was commissioned by TAG Company and found that a third of customers had been approached by security guards rather than store staff and that 72% of incidents were in full view of other shoppers.

More worrying is the fact that in 77% of incidents nothing was said to the shopper when they had their bags checked and in 8% of cases customers were angered by the intrusion and the perception that they had done something wrong.

Whether being caught red-faced or red-handed, store staff face a customer service dilemma and have to check all suspect bags, although only 26% of staff are involved in intercepting customers. In the majority of cases (33%) it was security guards that intervened which could be seen to aggravate an already delicate situation.

In 28% of case, shoppers were asked to go back into the store to have their bags checked while 26% simply had the tag de-activated and they were allowed on their way.

“It was interesting to hear directly from consumers involved in this scenario as to their feelings at the time of being stopped. The majority felt embarrassed, although 35% were less bothered and acknowledged that there must have been a mistake,” said Christine McNulty of Outsource Plus, the independent researcher organisation commissioned to interview shoppers.

In only 5% of cases, staff explained to customers that tag pollution was an issue, compared to 77% of cases where nothing was said at all.

EAS is the last line of defence for retailers attempting to protect stores from shoplifters, but the highly sophisticated systems are often set off by ‘tag pollution’

“Many retailers endorse the power of EAS in curbing shrink and as a deterrent, but they are also reporting alarming statistics over the number of false tag security activations which is too often a problem of education and training, rather than the technology.” said Richard Bawamia, Director of Service for TAG Company.

“On many occasions retailers are simply switching alarms off if they are ringing constantly. Instead of putting their stores at risk, they need to get the root of the issue by keeping a log of the persistent offender tags locally and nationally so that a meaningful discussion can take place with stores that generate persistent false alarms.”

More than 50 retailers were recently surveyed and almost 90% reported incidents of tag pollution. Many tags are applied in store and wrongly positioned by staff, an issue many believe is eradicated by source tagging of products at the point of manufacture to guarantee compliance. 

Some retailers insist upon more than one tag on high value items that are often targeted by thieves. Check-out staff are encouraged to maintain eye contact with customers and don’t realise that by not looking down, they often inadvertently scan the items more than once which could in fact re-activate a tag.

“The research proves that although many customers felt that they were dealt with sensitively, there is still a great deal to be done in terms of staff training to put them at their ease and more importantly, eradicate the problem altogether by making sure that tags are deactivated from all stores before customers leave,” adds Bawamia.

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