Retailers of all sizes and specialties lose money to shoplifting. Retail thieves will hide merchandise under their clothes or in coat pockets, purses, shopping bags, baby strollers and umbrellas hanging on their arms. Putting security tags or sensors on your inventory deters these criminals. The type you choose depends on the kinds of items you sell and your budget.

The Basics

Security tags that work with radio-frequency identification, or RF, have become standard elements of electronic article surveillance, or EAS, systems, which are popular in retail loss prevention. Security tags contain a sensor that sets off an alarm when it passes through an EAS tower or pillar placed at the store's entrance. Two companies dominate the EAS system market: Checkpoint and Sensormatic. The tags themselves come in two styles, hard or soft.

Hard Tags

Many variations and sizes of hard tags exist, but all have a plastic back, or gator, that attaches to a pin inserted into a garment seam. You need special detachers to remove them. Some, like those manufactured by All-Tag, are benefit/denial products, or ink tags, that deface clothing if they're improperly removed. Clam tags require a shoplifter to cut a circle out of the garment to remove it, which destroys the garment. Clam, ink and regular hard tag detachers use magnetic force for removal. Sensormatic SuperTag hard tags require detachers with a specific hook.

Cables, Lanyards and Spiderwraps

You can protect merchandise that cannot be pierced with a security tag pin by using cabled versions of the hard tag. AlphaWorld, a division of Checkpoint, specializes in cable- and wired-based theft prevention devices to protect displays of electronic devices, leather coats, kitchen appliances and expensive handbags. Lanyards use a cable that wraps around the merchandise and hooks into a corresponding box-like tag. Spider wraps use wires to wrap around boxed merchandise such as coffeemakers and electronics. Other cable devices lock products on display.

Soft Tags

For small packages not suitable for hard tags or cabling, label soft tags are an adhesive theft-prevent option, made by Checkpoint and embedded with a magnetic strip. Retail sales associates swipe these labels over a deactivation device to disable them. Otherwise, merchandise protected by this type of sensor sets off the EAS alarm when a shoplifter tries to exit the store.

A variation of security labeling that is growing in popularity with larger retailers is source-tagging, which are magnetic tags sewn into apparel by the manufacturer. Associates deactivate them at the register, but customers must remove them with scissors at home. Source tagging suits large retailers who get the tags through local manufacturers. However, you can request that suppliers provide this service.