Lowe's Attempts to Thwart Rampant Theft by Developing High-Tech System That's 'Invisible' to Customers


Home improvement retailer Lowe’s is rolling out a new concept in retail theft prevention that relies on technology to allow shoppers to touch and not just look when they want to buy power tools.

Project Unlock is a proof-of-concept system as Lowe’s looks for ways to stop theft without locking up everything before it walks out the door, Lowe’s Chief Digital and Information Officer Seemantini Godbole said, according to Fox Business.

The process is essentially “invisible for the customer. They should not even know that there’s anything extra happening,” Godbole said.

Godbole said in addition to stopping theft, “We want our associates to be safe. Organized retail crime is happening in the broad daylight, in the presence of associates and other customers.”

A National Retail Federation survey in 2021 showed stores estimated they had a 26.5 percent increase in organized retail crime that year, with losses hitting $100 billion.

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The standard response of locking up products is “disrupting an enjoyable experience that customers rightfully should have,” Godbole said.

“As you can see, all the retailers are locking down stuff and putting physical locks on the product. We said, ‘you know, we wish we had digital locks… we could enable and disable with technology.’”

Josh Shabtai, Lowe’s Innovation Labs senior director of ecosystem, said to combat what he called “brazen theft,” the traditional way of locking up products “makes it harder to sell things” and “makes it difficult for customers to not feel like they are in a super-maximum prison area,” according to the website DigitalCommerce360.

Lowe’s piloted a program focusing on power tools because they are one of the most pilfered items at Lowe’s.

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On its website about Project Unlock, Lowe’s explains that the project works long before a high-value item hits the store.

“To make this work: in the manufacturing process, a manufacturer embeds a wireless RFID (Radio Frequency Identity) chip into a powered product. The tag is preloaded with that item’s unique serial number — which is also embedded in the box’s barcode — and the product is set to inoperable,” the site said.

When a customer scans and pays, just as usual, “a point-of-sale RFID scanner reads all tags in range, finds the tool with the correct serial number, and writes a unique secret key value that activates the tool for use.”

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“Only products that are legitimately purchased are activated. If a power tool is stolen, it won’t work, which makes it less valuable to steal,” the site said.

If implemented, the idea is that word will spread “pretty quickly that stealing these tools this way is not worth it because it’ll never work,” Godbole said, according to Fox Business.

Gene Zelek, senior counsel at Taft Law, told DigitalCommerce360 that he is a skeptic.

“It’s a nice effort, but it’s cumbersome. You are ultimately going to have upset customers who can’t figure out why their tool doesn’t work that they paid for, and they will go back to the marketplace or the manufacturer with a warranty claim,” he said.

This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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