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Effective Ways to Prevent Shopping Cart Theft or Loss

Updated on May 26, 2009

Shopping Cart Theft

Shopping carts are carts supplied by a store for customer use. A customer uses the shopping cart to collect merchandise and transport the merchandise from the store to the check-out counter and often to the customer's car after they are done paying. Oftentimes the customers leave the carts in the parking lot, use them to walk to a nearby bus stop or home, or even worse, they steal them! Shopping cart theft is a major issue among stores. Retrieval, repair, and replacement costs add up. Lost shopping carts can add up to an eight to ten thousand dollar drain in a store's revenue per year. Shopping cart shortages can affect customer satisfaction and stray carts create retrieval costs as well as a nuisance for the surrounding community in addition to posing serious liability risks when they wander into roadways and waterways. Wayward shopping carts have imposed such high costs, additional time, and effort to cities for retrieval that now over 200 cities around the United States have implemented ordinances requiring retailers to find ways to keep their carts from leaving their property. Fortunately, there is a solution to preventing shopping cart loss and theft! Electronic systems such as locking wheels, a boot or brake shell, alarm systems, and GPS tracking systems are effective in preventing shopping cart theft. Physical limitations such as security guards, vertical pole attachments, and magnetic strips can be effective in preventing shopping cart theft as well.

Electronic Wheel Locking System

The electronic locking wheel solution works by a thin wire being placed around the perimeter of the parking lot slightly below the parking lot’s surface. The wheel stops when the cart leaves the designated area. The CartControl system from Gatekeeper Systems utilizes the locking wheel solution by combining a locking signal, embedded perimeter antenna, and a self-braking wheel to provide the most effective and easy-to-use shopping cart containment solution available. Outdoors or indoors, wherever you need to contain shopping carts, CartControl is the invisible barrier that protects the retailer's bottom line. The Gatekeeper solution has a totally wireless reset which means the retailer does not have to bend down, lift the cart, or get their hands dirty from manually unlocking the wheels. All carts in an area can be unlocked with one touch of the button on a remote. The standard-size wheel fits virtually any cart and can be installed in the field or at the factory by the cart manufacturer. The wheel is componentized making it easy to replace parts, reducing waste, and minimizing costs.

Alternatively, the boot or braking shell version is a device that is not inside the wheel but actually covers the outside of the wheel. When the shopping cart goes beyond its designated area the braking shell covers the wheel disabling the wheel from rolling further. A potential drawback to the locking boot option is that if any part of the boot breaks, the entire mechanism will need to be replaced. It is also very easy for dirt, snow, or other materials to get stuck in the boot disabling it. Lastly, each cart must be manually unlocked individually in order to put the cart back in use. One must bend down and unlock the boot from covering the wheel, touching the boot and any debris it may have collected or came in contact with.


Motorized Cart Disabler

Motorized shopping carts make shopping easier for elderly shoppers and shoppers with disabilities. Giving these customers the ability to shop more easily makes these carts invaluable to store owners. Motorized carts are also highly desired by thieves as they can used virtually anywhere, by anyone, not just in supermarkets or stores. Motorized carts are valuable and really hit retailers in the pocket book when they lose even just one. Motorized carts let out into the parking lot also dramatically increases the store's liability because the low profile of the carts.  Riders are virtually impossible to be seen by cars in the parking lot. Inclement weather also can ruin these carts when left out in the elements. To prevent the loss of these assets, Gatekeeper Systems has engineered a wireless disabling device that simply attaches to the back of the motorized cart. As the cart attempts to leave the store, a signal is sent to the MobilityManager, mounted on the unit, letting it know that it does not have permission to exit the store. The cart gently stops when it reaches the invisible barrier, preventing the cart from going outside. The MobilityManager is an ideal solution for store exits, mall entrances, or any other area that you would like to protect motorized carts from leaving. The motorized cart is easily reactivated with one touch of a button on the store's remote control or by pushing it back into the unlock field.

Alarm System

There are two components of the shopping cart alarm system. First, each shopping cart has an alarm device fitted on the front of the shopping cart between the wheels. The second component is a transmitter perimeter circuit installed at the each exit and entry point of the shopping center. At each one of these points a sign is posted warning shoppers an alarm will sound if they leave the perimeter with a shopping cart. The shopping cart alarm has a warning signal and an alarm signal. Once the shopping cart passes the warning line, the warning sound will go off. If the cart is returned the alarm will be deactivated. Should the shopper ignore the second alarm line and continue to cross the line, the shopping cart will sound a higher pitched and louder alarm. Despite the embarrassment this may cause customers, it does not however, stop them from taking the shopping cart. This system requires personnel to go after the stolen cart.

GPS Tracking Sytems

A GPS tracking system is another method to prevent shopping carts from leaving the designated perimeters. The tracking device allows store managers to keep track of their shopping carts. This does not prevent people from taking them however, and it can be quite costly to implement a GPS tracking device on all shopping carts. Personnel or retrieval services must then be deployed to obtain the carts.  Additional costs can include labor, gas, and cart repair.

Security Guards

A security guard is a person hired to protect property, assets, and people. Shoppers are less likely inclined to steal shopping carts if they are being watched by a security guard. Security guards are very beneficial in reducing shopping cart theft; however, hiring additional personnel can get costly. For a security guard to make a significant impact on the reduction of shopping cart theft, one must be located at each exit around the parking lot to ensure no one leaves with them.  As there are many distractions that occur in parking lots, cart loss can often be missed.

Shopping Cart Poles

In some stores, shopping carts are equipped with vertical poles physically preventing them from leaving the store. This reduces shopping cart theft significantly simply because the cart cannot leave the premises. The downside to this method of shopping cart theft prevention is the inconvenience it has on customers when transporting their merchandise from their shopping cart, now stopped inside the store, to their cars.

Magnetic Strips

Some shopping cart theft prevention systems depend on a magnetic strip embedded in the concrete around the perimeter of the shopping center. Each shopping cart has a locking device fitted to two wheels. As the shopping cart / trolley rolls onto the magnetized area the wheels lock rendering it immovable. This system has had some limited success but the wheels are a target for vandals which can easily enough be kicked off or broken. The destruction of the wheels results in a breakdown of the system.

Have you seen a shopping cart located off of its property?

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