Macy’s Aims RFID at Organized Retail Theft

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Amid a recent spate of high-profile thefts targeting retailers nationwide,

Macy’s Inc.

said it is leaning on radio-frequency identification technology for asset protection.

RFID chips tagged to merchandise provide the retailer real-time information on where and when certain products are being stolen, said

Joe Coll,

vice president of asset protection, operations and strategy at Macy’s. RFID data can also inform the chain on where best to focus security in stores, he said.

“RFID plays a huge part for us from an investigative standpoint,” Mr. Coll said on Tuesday at a webinar hosted by trade publication RFID Journal.

Strategies combating retail theft have become especially important during a surge in organized retail crime—incidents where items are stolen in order to be resold.

According to a survey last year by the National Retail Federation, some 64% of loss-prevention professionals said organized retail crime has become more of a priority for their companies over the past five years.

A spike in smash-and-grab robberies is driving retailers to find new ways to boost security and protect merchandise this holiday shopping season. Retailers say organized crime incidents have risen during the pandemic. Photo: Oak Brook Police Department

Recent high-profile “flash mob” thefts at stores like

Nordstrom Inc.,

Best Buy Co.

Inc. and

Louis Vuitton

have brought national attention to the issue.

“Those are your major hitters. They’re taking large quantities of product out of your building,” Mr. Coll said.

While RFID might not have prevented those heists, it does give retailers detailed information on the stock-keeping unit, size and color of stolen items that they can then pass along to law enforcement, he said.

In retail scenarios, RFID can take the form of stickers with a metallic overlay attached to an item’s tags, said

Sandeep Unni,

a senior director analyst in


retail industry research practice. The technology isn’t new, and retailers have been experimenting with it since the early 2000s with varying degrees of success, he said, adding that its most common use is for inventory tracking and management.

Macy’s, which began using RFID in 2013, stands out not only as an early adopter, but one that has expanded the technology’s uses, including to fighting organized crime, he said.

At Macy’s, data is collected when the identification chip passes through “smart exits” equipped with sensors, according to Mr. Coll. Macy’s can then access the relevant video footage and determine which criminals took which merchandise, he added.

The technology also gives Macy’s the ability to understand what types of items were more likely to be stolen at what times of year, Mr. Coll said. Winter coats, for instance, were a huge target for thieves in the late summer and early fall, he said.

After Macy’s introduced the technology to the asset-protection side of the business in 2016, sensors were placed at both customer and employee exits, Mr. Coll said. The store was immediately able to identify employees—some of whom had worked at the company for over 20 years and never been under investigation—stealing merchandise, he said.

Write to Isabelle Bousquette at [email protected]

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