Retail theft is a growing problem that impacts stores and shoppers alike. According to the National Retail Federation, organized crime can cost retailers an average of $700,000 for every $1 billion in sales. Retail chains like Lowe’s have been particularly affected by theft, particularly in the case of power tools, which are high-value items that are easy to resell. To prevent these thefts, Lowe’s has come up with a new program called Lowes’ Project Unlock.
The program is designed to prevent criminals from stealing products at stores and prevent the sale of stolen goods online or in other locations. The Lowe’s Innovation Labs team has developed the program over three years, and it is now being piloted in six stores with more than 600 power tools.
The two priorities for the Project Unlock solution were that it had to be invisible to shoppers, and it had to be low cost. To achieve this, Lowe’s has embedded Radio Frequency Identity (RFID) chips into its power tools. The RFID contains the power tool’s unique serial number, which is also on the product’s barcode. When a shopper goes to purchase a tool, the tool will not work until an associate scans the barcode at checkout. Once scanned, Lowe’s has an overhead RFID scanner that will read the serial number RFID chip in the power tool and activate it. The tool will not work unless this activation happens.
By using this process, if the power tool does not work until it is activated at purchase, it is less valuable for a criminal to steal. In addition, a shopper is not aware that this process is happening, making this anti-theft solution “invisible.” RFID is also on the lower end of cost implementation than other solutions that could achieve the project’s goal, such as Bluetooth. RFID scanners could cost “a few thousands of dollars” and can also be used for other purposes in the store.
While this process makes it less valuable for a criminal to steal, the thief could still resell it and hope that the purchaser does not know the tool is deactivated until it’s too late. To combat this, Lowe’s will put the purchased product’s serial number on a blockchain-encrypted record. Blockchain is an open, distributed internet ledger that can record transactions between two or more parties in a verifiable and permanent manner.
The blockchain purchase record will verify the legitimacy of the product, ensuring that it has been purchased from an authorized retailer. If the purchaser discovers that the product is stolen, they can report it to Lowe’s, who can then use the blockchain record to track down the item’s history and determine if it was stolen from one of their stores. By providing this transparent record solution, Lowe’s is shifting the responsibility onto the purchaser to verify if they are purchasing a stolen item in the secondary market.
By implementing Project Unlock, Lowe’s is taking a technology-forward and low-cost way to prevent retail theft. However, it is worth noting that such a solution does not come without drawbacks. While it is an effective method to prevent theft in the store, it puts the onus on the purchaser to verify if they are purchasing a stolen item in the secondary market. The program is also currently only being piloted in a limited number of stores, and it remains to be seen how effective it will be in the long run. Nonetheless, it is a positive step towards addressing the problem of retail theft and providing a safer and more secure shopping experience for everyone involved.