Having trouble catching shoplifters? A Finnish start-up has developed IoT-enabled smart tags that can track products moving on the shop floor and even detects techniques used to steal items iStock

A Finnish start-up has developed smart electronic tags that rely on the Internet of Things (IoT) and the cloud in order to track products moving on the shop floor and even detect the various methods shoplifters use to evade detection.

Currently, it is quite difficult to catch shoplifters and retailers rely on security guards or loss prevention technologies like electronic article tags and security gates at store entrances in order to catch thieves. But what if you could make it possible for store managers and security to track high-value items in real time?

The Noccela system aims to solve this problem with 48x48mm IoT-enabled smart tags that can be attached to clothing and other goods the same way regular electronic article tags are.

Whenever someone tries to take a product into a restricted area, an alert is sent from the tag to a sensor on the ceiling of the shop into the cloud to a smartphone app on the security guard's phone, and to desktop computers in the back office.

"Other solutions would need something like between 40-60 sensors to provide accuracy of up to half a metre in a room measuring 3,000 sqm. With Noccela, you need just eight sensors to cover the same area," Noccela CTO Tapani Talvitie told IBTimes UK at the Slush 2016 tech conference in Helsinki.

"People don't normally take a PS4 to a fitting room. We're using different radio frequencies to triangulate the position of the tag and there is two-way communication between the tag [and the cloud]."

Apart from tracking where items move within the store, the tags are also smart enough to detect the various techniques thieves use to get away with crime, such as using magnets to remove electronic article tags, cutting security wires and hiding products in foil-lined bags so that they can pass through security gates without setting off alarms.

Noccela smart tag attached to a jacket
A Noccela smart tag attached to a jacket in a store (click to enlarge image) Noccela

If the tag detects any of these behaviours, it will not only send out an alert, but also turn into an alarm that can either be silent or loud, depending on whether the retailer wants to make an example of the shoplifter or simply enable security to apprehend the perpetrator quickly.

The Noccela smart tags are now being trialled by Gigantti (a major Nordic consumer electronics chain) and an unnamed global fashion retailer. The pilot has been ongoing since the summer and the start-up reports that none of the articles protected by its tags have been stolen.

"Besides catching shoplifters, the system also shows the shop how the products move through the shop, and helps retailers understand why consumers ditch products before they get to the checkout. The shop can also see how many people took [a specific piece of clothing] to the fitting room," explained Talvitie.

Noccela recently raised €1.2m ($1.28m, £1m) in private equity and the company intends to release more information about pricing and how the technology works at the Retail Risk loss prevention conference in London on 23 March 2017.