What Is the Difference Between EAS and RFID Tags?

An RFID security tag system and EAS tagging systems are two common anti-theft technologies used by retail businesses for retail security applications. Though there are similarities in the technologies—both are forms of wireless communication used for inventory management or to prevent theft—there are differences between the two in how they operate and function. In terms of technology, functionalities, and capabilities, here are key differences between the two:

Difference in Technology

EAS tagging systems consist of three main components:

  1. an electronic antenna
  2. an electronic tag or label
  3. and a deactivating mechanism or detaching device for the tags at the point of sale.

The EAS antennae are the familiar pedestals installed at store entry and exit points. Electronic tags are attached to items or merchandise. The tags contain specialized circuits that interact with sensors installed in the antennae at exits or entry points of a store or facility. When an item with an EAS tag attached passes through these sensors, it triggers an alarm if the tag has not been deactivated or removed. There are different types of EAS systems that function on different frequencies. The primary types of EAS systems operate using Electro-Magnetic (EM), Acousto-Magnetic (AM), and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). Each of these EAS systems is capable of performing similar functions, but of the three, RFID is more advanced and has more features.

An RFID security tag system consists of passive or active RFID tags that communicate with RFID readers via radio waves that track and identify tagged items. The system consists of two components: an RFID reader and the label or tag. An RFID reader is a combination antenna and transceiver, a device that transmits and receives data from tags. RFID readers are network-connected and can either be handheld or stationary. RFID tags have an integrated circuit (IC) composed of a microchip and antenna that is embedded within a substrate or inlay encoded with identifying information. An active RFID tag has its own power source, typically a battery. Passive RFID tags are powered by an electromagnetic wave, i.e., the radio frequency signal sent by the RFID reader, which induces a current within the RFID tag’s antenna. 

Differences in Functionality

Widely used in retail spaces as a means to deter theft and prevent shoplifting, EAS tagging systems are a classic and effective method well-regarded for their simplicity in loss prevention for the retail industry. Their primary function is security—electronically detectable tags affixed to inventory items are monitored by sensors placed at store exits. An alarm is triggered if a tagged item is removed from a store without proper deactivation or removal of the tag.

RFID security tag systems offer a broad range of functionalities within retail environments, ranging from enhancing security to improving inventory control. Like EAS tagging systems, RFID security tags and labels attached to merchandise will trigger an alarm if someone tries to exit the store without first removing or deactivating the label or tag at the point of sale. However, unlike EAS tagging systems, the integrated circuits embedded in the RFID tags store a unique identifier—product information in the retailer’s database, such as SKU, description, price, etc., that track inventory. Unique identifiers can be used for product authentication to verify products at checkout. As a security measure, retailers can prevent swapping price tags and ensure that customers are purchasing genuine items. 

Differences in Capabilities

The appeal of an EAS tagging system is in its ease, simplicity, and convenience. Retailers only have to set the tag on merchandise and forget it. The fact is that EAS technology is a proven, reliable and accurate system that offers retailers high detection rates and protects their merchandise from shoplifting. That said, EAS tagging systems are limited in their overall capabilities. The systems do not typically store data and are designed solely to trigger an alarm when items pass through a detection system without payment. The systems also have a limited range of detection that requires the EAS tag to directly pass the antenna sensors for the alarm to trigger.

On the other hand, an RFID security tag system, in addition to acting like an EAS security tag, has read and write capabilities, allowing data to be stored directly on the microchip embedded in the tag itself. This offers a significant advantage to retailers, as an RFID reader can not only detect the presence of a tag for security purposes, but also read data about the item, such as its color, size, and other product information. Additionally, because RFID tags can store unique product identifiers, that information can be used for inventory management, asset tracking, logistics, supply chain optimization, and other applications that require real-time tracking and identification of items. The data can be read and updated wirelessly using RFID readers, providing greater flexibility and functionality for various applications. Some RFID system wireless data transmissions can cover distances of over 200 yards, allowing for the simultaneous reading of multiple RFID tags within a specified range. This makes RFID systems more suitable for applications requiring the tracking of multiple items in a larger area.

Though both EAS tagging systems and RFID systems serve tracking and security purposes, they differ in technology, functionality, and capabilities. EAS tagging systems are primarily focused on theft prevention, while RFID systems offer broader functionalities for inventory management, asset tracking, security, and supply chain optimization.

Engineered Automation of Maine, Inc., has been an industry leader in the design and integration of RFID and EAS labeler technology for years. We work collaboratively with RFID and EAS label manufacturers to enhance equipment and manufacturing processes to ensure the delivery of high-quality EAS and RFID solutions for our customers. We offer custom labeling and part handling solutions, high-speed application rate capability, and a small integration footprint. For more information on automated labeling solutions, contact EAM today