RECORD STORE TALES #1040: The Tag Jar
As your typical mall music store in the 1990s, we had the usual magnetic tag security system. The idea was fairly simple. At the store entrance there was a magnetic detector that you had to pass through. Our merchandise was tagged with these little magnetic strips, about an inch long. If you passed one of these strips through the detector by the door, a loud siren would be triggered. It was one of several loss prevention methods we used.
There were two ways to utilise the security tags. One was to double up with a re-usable security case. These cases locked the CD into a longer “long box” length package. This package was tagged on the inside with the magnetic security system. At the front counter, a special key would unlock the security case. You’d then put another CD in there and re-use it. The other method involved tagging the CD or tape itself, in an inconspicuous place on the spine of the cellophane. In this case, a special magnetic device behind the counter would “de-tag” the disc. It was not totally reliable so you wanted to use the device three or four times, running it over the tag. You wanted to make sure you properly de-tagged the item before the customer left the store.
Since no customer liked setting off the security alarm, it was heavily emphasized: make sure you de-tag! And we had a jar where you had to pay a dollar if you were caught checking out a customer without de-tagging. The boss warned us: everybody screws this up, it’s just a matter of time until you do. I was like, nahhh man, not me. I was hired in July and my first dollar went into the tag jar before Christmas.
The money in the tag jar went towards paying for our annual Christmas dinner. The boss invited one of his personal friends to join us, which in hindsight seems weird. It was a nice dinner though, and we worked hard earning it. My first Christmas there was a busy one and we were both buying and selling discs the whole time, all at one little tiny counter.
The security alarms were loud. You could hear them down the hallway of the mall, all the way down to the Zellers store. That’s how I got caught one time. I was hoping the boss didn’t hear me while he was out doing his bank run, but he did, and I had to pony up my dollar. I couldn’t remember if I de-tagged the guy or not, which meant I probably didn’t. But sometimes I swear it was just that the device wasn’t de-tagging properly. Some box sets also had two or three tags on the shrinkwrap. There were multiple ways to screw it up.
Thieves always find ways around your best security measures, and ultimately the tags were not worth the cost and were phased out in future stores, in a new and innovative way: ditching new product almost altogether in favour of a 90% used strategy. But that’s a whole other story.