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Technisches Englisch (23)

Electronic Article Surveillance

Interested in a free ride in a police car? You can have it if you are caught shoplifting
Interested in a free ride in a police car? You can have it if you are caught shoplifting
(Bild: Steffen Boiselle)

Teil 22


Lucy and Jack have realized that a vacuum robot can turn into a voracious gadget without the necessary preparatory work of tidying up before it can be used properly and efficiently.

The house shouldn’t be cluttered with too many things on the floor. Otherwise you spend more time getting your home ready for the robot VC than saving time in the end. It is only then that you can simply press the button and relax on the couch or in bed while it removes all the dirt.  Aren’t there always some lessons to be learned from any new technology that we introduce into our everyday lives before we can do without the conventional appliances? But who knows, a robot that does the washing, ironing, cleans the bathroom and cooks your dinner might be a thing of the not too distant future. 

Nevertheless, Lucy’s favourite scarf has been ruined by the little monster and so Lucy felt the need to replace her old scarf with something new. She has just come home from a shopping spree and now uncle Jack will learn all the details about quite a nerve-racking experience. 

Shoplifting is the illegal act of taking goods from a shop without paying for them. It has a big impact on retailers and their profits. This is why many stores install Electronic Article Surveillance, or EAS. But sometimes, even as an innocent customer, you could find yourself in an embarrassing situation.

Jack: Oops, what’s that Lucy?  I thought you just wanted to replace the scarf that was tugged in by our vacuum robot. It seems, however, that you’ve spent a little more money considering all the bags you’re carrying. 

Lucy: Well, I changed my original plan, Uncle Jack and ended up finding so many pretty clothes. I simply couldn’t resist. You wouldn’t believe, however, what happened to me in one of the stores. I almost got arrested

Jack: Were you trying to steal anything? Shoplifting is a serious criminal offence, young lady!

Lucy: How can you assume something like this of me? 

Jack: I never would, but you can read it in the newspaper very often that young people do such things in order to impress their peers or to prove their courage.

Lucy: Oh yes, Uncle Jack, I’m certainly that kind of person, probably also suffering from kleptomania. Moreover, who would I try to impress? I hardly know anybody here and was all by myself. 

Jack: I didn’t mean this seriously. But tell me, what happened?

Lucy: Well, I had quite a few shopping bags with me already and went into another store. I tried on a pair of pants in the fitting room and afterwards went to the checkout to pay for them. When I wanted to leave the store, the alert suddenly sounded. I was so shocked from the noise it made, that I didn’t go back inside right away because I thought it couldn’t be me. I had just paid for the pants, after all. So, two of the sales staff came running after me and told me to go back inside the store. It was so embarrassing, you wouldn’t believe it, Uncle Jack.

Jack: Poor girl, what happened next? 

Lucy: Well, they had a look at the pants that I had just bought, but there was no security label that had been forgotten. Therefore, I had to empty all my other bags as well, and in the end, it turned out that somebody in another store had not properly deactivated one of the tags. That’s at least what they assumed. I even had to show them the contents of my hand bag. 

Jack: Well, that seems to be a typical case of tag pollution. It occurs when labels or tags are not properly deactivated or removed by retailers. It’s a very common cause of false alarms. It can also happen that the security gates at the entrance of a store aren’t working correctly. The EAS antennas should be checked every day by the sales personnel. 

Lucy: What does EAS mean? Moreover, I didn’t know that these big things close to a store’s entrance and exit are antennas. 

Jack: EAS stands for electronic article surveillance. Retailers nowadays invest a lot of money in order to protect their merchandise and minimise shrinkage. Security tagging is one of the most effective ways to combat shoplifters because whenever an article is leaving the store without being paid for, the tagging system will alert the store’s staff.

Lucy: Oh yes and it’s very loud, indeed. Moreover, you get the impression that everybody’s staring at you and you feel very guilty even if you paid. But how does this EAS actually work or not work as in my case?

Jack: Well, an EAS system works with detection antennas installed at the exit of the store and hard tags or labels attached to the articles to be sold. Electromagnetic energy is permanently emitted by these antennas. The radio transmitter in the gate on one side constantly sends radio waves to the opposite gate which contains a radio receiver. Thus, when a customer passes them with an article and its hard tag or label has not been deactivated, the RF tag transmits a radio wave at a certain frequency which in turn is picked up by the receiver gate. It identifies its frequency and sounds the alarm if it’s the correct frequency. 

Lucy: Is it all based on electromagnetism?

Jack: Yes, and there are a variety of electromagnetic frequencies that are used in antitheft detection. One technology is the RF, short for radio-frequency and the more advanced technology called RFID which means radio-frequency identification

Lucy: What’s the difference between the two? They sound very similar

Jack: RF tags are mainly used for electronic article surveillance, whereas RFID tags can be used for tracking pets, stocktaking in public libraries and even collecting fares from passengers in public transport. The simple RF tags set off the alarm when somebody tries to steal something, without identifying, however, what article they’re attached to. All these tags are identical. You can see them on small articles in supermarkets. The most popular type of RF tag is the Acousto-Magnetic or AM tag. They are a little bit more expensive than the EM, the electromagnetic tags and are therefore mostly attached to more expensive articles such as clothes or perfumes. 

Lucy: And what was the other type again?

Jack: That’s the RFID. These tags can identify the article they’ve been attached to. 

Lucy: Very clever, how does this work?

Jack: Well, a very good example is its use in libraries. The library’s self-checkout machine produces radio waves that look for a tag either in the back or inside the front cover of a book. When the tag has been sensed and the code it contains is read, the decoded information will be transmitted back to the computer system. Thus, the library’s records are updated depending on whether you’ve taken out or returned the book. 

Lucy: I see, so RFID has more uses than just being an alarm system.

Jack: That’s correct. RF tags are a cost-effective solution for retailers who want to have a basic antitheft alarm system. It’s affordable, particularly when you consider how much profit you’d lose through theft. Another advantage is that they can be picked up by the transmitter from a distance extremely quickly. RFID tags mostly work over much shorter distances. Some operate at a distance of up to 10cm, others even have to be held right next to a reader device

Lucy: But what do shop owners do to prevent false alarms? Do they care about this at all?

Jack: Oh yes, of course, they do. When such false alarms are set off regularly, the customer experience in a store is affected and moreover the staff is desensitized to potential threats. EAS antennas should actually be checked every day before opening the store. But who knows whether the staff really do it. It must also be ensured that all label deactivators are plugged into a power source and operate properly. They are mostly installed above or below the counter or are incorporated into the scanning equipment. Staff must also know how to remove tags correctly and there should be sufficient detachers at the checkout. 

Lucy: Couldn’t it also be that articles are sometimes displayed too close to the antennas?

Jack: Yes, that’s true. The area between and close to the EAS antennas must be kept free of any products, clothing racks, decorations or LCD screens. This so-called ‘No Tag’ zone usually covers an area of two meters around the antenna. In some cases, the EAS sensitivity level might have to be readjusted so that they’re not disturbed by other systems. 

Lucy: Okay, I see, all this seems to be more complicated than what you’d normally expect as a customer. 

Jack: Absolutely true, my dear. Staff with customer contact are nowadays properly trained to spot shoplifting even before or while it’s happening. Hiding merchandise is the most common method of shoplifting. Items are hidden in other clothing, handbags or strollers for example or price labels are switched.

Lucy: Talking about price labels, Uncle Jack, can you explain to me how bar codes work? I’d love to be able to read them. Is this possible at all?

Jack: Oh Lucy, what a lot of questions on a single day. I suggest that you take your purchases into your room now and we discuss the bar code question another time. I could also tell some more details about other RFID uses. This is really very interesting and sounds a little bit like science fiction. 

Lucy: That’s a good idea, Uncle Jack. I should also recover from spending so much money and setting off an alarm. We’ll discuss all the other things later on. 


Using the word »staff«

When you use the word »staff« (Mitarbeiter, Personal, Belegschaft) in English, you might wonder whether to use it with a singular or plural verb. 

  • In British English: staff is usually followed by a plural verb: »The staff are on strike today«.
  • In American English, staff is mostly followed by a singular verb: »The company’s staff consists mostly of men«.

Don’t say: »a staff« to talk about one person, use »a staff member« or »member of staff« or »an employee«. »Staffs« is sometimes used for different groups of people, but it is less common than »staff«. Different departments and their staffs. 

Don’t confuse »staff« with »stuff« (Zeug, Sachen, Krempel), which means a substance or something when you don’t know exactly what it is: »What’s this red stuff you’re eating?«

Things when you talk about them in a very general way: »We did some interesting stuff today.?

Someone’s possessions (Besitz/Eigentum): »Is this your stuff lying on the floor over there?« or »I’ll carry all your stuff.«

Present Perfect Simple and Past Simple

Last time we had a look at the Present Perfect Simple and the Present Perfect Continuous/Progressive. Today I’d like to compare the Present Perfect Simple and the Past Simple. Both tenses are used to talk about past events or activities.

The Present Perfect Simple The Past Simple

Emphasizes the relevance for the present moment.

Emphasizes that it took place in the past and is over now.

The result is important, not the point in time, the point in time is not mentioned.

The point in time is often mentioned.

Examples Examples
  • Have you seen the latest movie with Renée Zellweger? She is a great actress. (Hast du Renée Zellwegers neuesten Film (schon) gesehen? Sie ist eine großartige Schauspielerin.)
  • Have you ever been to New York? No I've never been there. (Warst du schon einmal in New York (irgendwann einmal)?)
  • My aunt has lived in Munich all her life. (Meine Tante lebt schon ihr ganzes Leben in München.)
  • Did you see the premiere of Renée Zellweger's movie last week? (Hast du letzte Woche die Premiere von Renée Zellwegers Film gesehen?)
  • Were you in New York when Barack Obama was US President? (Warst du in New York als Barack Obama US-Präsident war?)
  • I lived in Munich from 210 until 2015. (Ich habe von 2010 bis 2015 in München gewohnt.)
Signal words Signal words
  • ever...? (jemals), never (niemals), ...yet? (schon), not...yet? (noch nicht), already (schon), for (seit), since (seit), just (gerade), so far (bisher), up to now (bis jetzt), in the past/last six/few hours/days/years (in den letzten sechs/paar Stunden/Tagen/Jahren).
  • yesterday, last week/month/year, last Saturday
  • two hours/days/years ago (vor zwei Stunden/Tagen/Jahren)
  • in the 18th century (im 18. Jahrhundert), in 1980, on May 1st, when...?


So much for today. I think that’s enough about the Present Perfect and how it compares with other tenses. I’m sure, however, that I can find some more interesting tenses that you might find useful. So, stay tuned!

Vokabelliste Teil 23

zu Teil 24

Über die Autorin
Sabine Barz

English communication-skills trainer


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