By  on June 9, 1994

NEW YORK -- Electronic-article-surveillance systems have been the eyes of store security guards for years, but new designs are letting retailers make those systems as visible or inconspicuous as they choose.

Companies across retail venues rely on EAS systems to keep a lid on external shrinkage. Deliberately conspicuous sensor gates at checkouts and mall openings often persuade shoplifters to pass a protected store by. But retailers and malls who want to downplay crime for law-abiding shoppers are turning to less-conspicuous systems.

"Today the average consumer is aware of EAS technology, so we really don't need the gates anymore," said Joe Klein, director of asset protection at Herman's World of Sporting Goods. "And some malls don't like the gates from an aesthetic point of view, so we're taking a proactive approach and removing them on our own."

Herman's is just one of many retailers opting for less-obtrusive systems. Marks & Spencer Canada, the Toronto-based unit of Britain's Marks & Spencer PLC, has also opted for ceiling sensors -- and for like reasons.

"The gates create too much of a prison atmosphere, so our sensors are concealed in the ceiling" said Michael Strachan, corporate operations manager. "Anybody who comes into the store with the intent of stealing is looking for an EAS system. They know it's there even if we don't have visible gates."

"The constant debate is whether to have the visual deterrent," commented John Plens, vice-president of loss prevention at Montreal-based Dalmy's, an upscale women's wear retailer. "But in the fashion business, the aesthetic appeal of the store is very important. The cattle gates might be appropriate for a sporting goods stores but not in stores like our high-end boutique Cactus."

The major vendors of EAS systems have provided alternatives to the gates consumers commonly associate with their systems. Deerfield Beach, Fla.-based Sensormatic Corp. can now install its magnetic sensors in the floor. Hauppauge, N.Y.-based Knogo Corp. gives retailers the option of hiding its radio-wave sensors in ceilings. Though a great many retailers want the in-your-face deterrent the gates provide, most appreciate the ability to choose.

Marcel St. Jean, director of loss prevention at Toronto retailer Holt Renfrew, said that chain has also opted for less-visible sensors. In Holt Renfrew stores, the sensors are in "wide exit pillars, not cattle gates," St. Jean said. Like Marks & Spencer, Holt Renfrew uses a Knogo system.

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