AM Labels vs. RF Labels: Which Is Best For My Retail Store?

Posted by Sensor Nation on

As a retailer, your products are your best asset--your customer attraction, your revenue stream, and the center of your brand appeal. Unfortunately, this also makes them attractive to those who would rather not pay a fair price for them.

Out of a survey of 22 large retail companies with a total of $500 billion in retail sales, 184,621 shoplifters and dishonest employees were apprehended in 2020, totaling over $81 million in recovered revenue.

Of course, you don't have to be a multinational corporation to feel the pinch of theft. If anything, small businesses suffer even more from these losses. So when you look into loss prevention solution options to prevent retail theft, you're looking for a way to protect your business. But how do you choose between your basic tools? Here's what you need to know to make the right choice between AM labels or RF labels.

AM Labels vs. RF Labels

First, it's important to know that AM labels and RF labels aren't just two different types of tags. They actually describe two different systems, which is why you couldn't use an LM tag deactivator on one of these tags (or any old alarm tag deactivator, for that matter). That said, they operate on a similar premise.

In both cases, we're talking about a system called Electronic Article Surveillance, or EAS. EAS is based on the premise that each product is fitted with a security label that communicates with an in-store antenna, usually near the store entry. When items are purchased legitimately, the cashier deactivates the label or removes the tag. However, if the tag comes in range of the antenna, an alarm sounds.

Acousto magnetic labels, or AM labels, uses a transmitter to send out signals in bursts. These signals energize tags within the pedestal zone, and when the pulse ends, the tag responds. In the meantime, a receiver detects the tag's signal. However, if an active tag passes between receivers, an alarm sounds.

Radio frequency, or RF labels, operate on a similar premise. The tags communicate with an antenna or receiver, and if they pass too close to a receiver, an alarm sounds. RF is often used interchangeably with RFID (radio frequency identification), but an RFID tag is actually a different piece of technology.

RF tags are much simpler than RFID. With RF, there's just one signal to show the receiver is where it belongs. RFID tags uniquely identify individual objects.

Benefits and Drawbacks

In operational terms, AM labels and RF labels only have one critical difference: their frequency. AM labels operate at 58 kHz, which means the signal goes out in bursts 50 to 90 times per second. RF labels generally operate around 8.2 MHz.

This also points to a key design difference, which is why retail store security deactivators are not one-size-fits-all. If you saw an AM tag deactivator for sale, for instance, it wouldn't work on RF labels--you need a specially designed RF tag deactivator.

AM label deactivators use a purpose-built magnet to match the strength of the tags, which demagnetize the label in order to deactivate it. RF label deactivators overload the tag's internal capacitor to break the tag's circuit, though hard tags can also be deactivated with a magnetic detacher.

With that in mind, let's talk about which label is the right fit for your business.

RF Labels

Many retailers opt for RF labels and RF systems because of the budget-friendly price point--the sticker price can range from low-cost, basic RF systems to advanced systems. Some RF systems also allow you to upgrade to RFID in the future if you need a more advanced security option since you can operate RF and RFID technology side-by-side in the same antenna.

Retailers also like that RF labels have a flat footprint through paper labels. This makes them quite easy to use for large volumes of packaged products.

Like any system, RF labels come with limitations. The biggest issue is that RF labels are more sensitive to electronic interference from other local electronic fixtures. RF systems are also usually limited to doorway pedestals. The labels also cannot be reused once the circuit is broken, which isn't a huge issue so much as an extra step if you want to return an item to the shelves.

AM Labels

AM labels offer a variety of major benefits. One of the biggest attractions for many retailers is the fact that AM sensors have a farther range than RF sensors. They're also less susceptible to electronic interference, which means you have more flexibility in where you place the sensor.

Plus, unlike RF labels, AM labels are simply magnets, so you can reactivate and reuse them after deactivation.

Unfortunately, AM labels and systems are usually more expensive than RF tags, and they can't be upgraded to RFID. AM tags also use a raised profile, which makes them impractical for retailers with a lot of small, high-turnover goods.

Which Label Is Right for You?

Which label is the right fit for you?

RF labels are ideal for retailers with a high volume of packaged products, which usually means supermarkets, discount stores, and pharmacies.

AM labels, on the other hand, are ideal for clothing outlets, department stores, electronic shops, and DIY shops where the products have a metallic component that's easy for the magnet to attach to.

Which Label Deactivator Should I Use?

As previously noted, retail security deactivators are not one-size-fits-all. Your security label deactivator has to match the system, or else you're trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Purchase your security tag system first, and then purchase label deactivators to match the system--RF deactivators for RF labels and AM deactivators for AM labels.

We Offer Ways to Make Your Business More Secure and Prevent Shoplifters

Whether you're using AM labels or RF labels, you can find a security label deactivator that works for you. The information in this post in conjunction with the information in our Loss Prevention Guide, will give you a very complete set of knowledge to build your system, of cours with our help.

We offer tags and deactivators for a variety of security systems, including RF and AM labels and deactivators. And if you're looking to think outside the box, we offer options for you too, like a Sensormatic compatible deactivator, tags, and other compatible products. Either way, we're here to help you protect your most important assets. So if you're ready for a smarter approach to product security backed by the best service in the industry, check out our store today.

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