Eileen Fisher: GigaMom


Curbing Shopping Cart Theft With Technology

Don’t Cross The Yellow Line

How many times have you seen someone walking around outside with a shopping cart, that was clearly taken from a store? I’m guessing you’ve seen it more than a few times, and so have I. Shopping cart theft costs retailers thousands of dollars each year—the average cost of a shopping cart is $150, and they can be upwards of $400 in value. That’s a lot of money!

Can shopping cart theft be stopped? Yes, we have the technology.

The other day I was at a store and my daughter noticed a sign saying that shopping cart will “lock” if they are taken over the yellow line. This got our curiosity going—we had never seen this before in a store parking lot and we wanted to know how that would work.

So of course, my rebellious daughter gave it a try:

You can actually hear me burst out laughing in the background. In fact, I laughed all the way home. I know, I’m one of “those” moms that has no problem laughing out loud when their kid does something ridiculous.

How does it all work, anyway? After doing some diligent research, I discovered that this technology is in essence, an electric fence—much like what some pet owners have to keep their dogs from escaping the yard.

The wheels of the shopping carts are electronic, and there is a transmitter around the perimeter of the lot, effectively “locking” the wheels if the cart goes past the boundary. With the wheels locked, the cart is pretty much immobilized. The wheels won’t move again until somebody from the store deactivates the locking device.

I can see how this system would definitely be a deterrent to shopping cart theft. I also see a few potential fails, such as someone accidentally wheeling over the boundary, having the wheels lock up leaving them to have to actually drag a cart full of shopping to their vehicle. It was difficult even for my teenager to do, and the shopping cart was empty.

The other danger I see to this method of curbing shopping cart theft is injury. When my daughter tested the system, she was walking at a quick pace and had an empty shopping cart, yet the force of the locking wheels caused her to bump into the cart quite hard. If someone was moving quickly with a cart full of shopping, I can imagine that they would definitely hurt their midsection by banging into the cart when it stopped.

In all my years of shopping, this is the first time I’ve ever seen this type of anti-theft technology in a store parking lot. I’m not sure what I think about it, part of me is thinking that there has to be a better way—is the cost of installing and maintaining an electronic system like this really prohibitive compared to the potential lost and stolen carts? Maybe.

Spill it! Have you seen a shopping cart system like this before? What do you think about it?