Home Depot plans to foil shoplifters with power tools that won’t work if they’re stolen

A display of yellow and orange power drills at a Home Depot.
Home Depot is working on making power tools an unattractive target for shoplifters. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
  • To combat thieves, Home Depot is introducing power tools that won’t work if they’re stolen.
  • Home Depot executive Scott Glenn spoke to Insider about the company’s efforts to stymie shoplifters.
  • He said the goal is to stop thieves without looking like an “armed encampment.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Home Depot has a clear message for professional shoplifters: Stay away.

The home-improvement chain is unveiling power tools that won’t work unless they’re properly scanned and activated at the register via Bluetooth technology. If a thief managed to smuggle a power drill out of the store without paying, the drill simply wouldn’t turn on.

Scott Glenn, Home Depot’s vice president of asset protection, told Insider about the company’s fight against organized retail crime. He made a point to distinguish between “professional shoplifters” and disorganized solo thieves. The pros, he said, frequently are connected to a larger network that can, in some cases, function as a sophisticated “shadow business.”

“There are very organized groups where the leaders at the top are recruiting people that are drug-dependent, homeless, or down on their luck and offering them incentives and providing shopping lists to go out and bring back certain products,” Glenn said. “At the top levels of these hierarchies, there are absolutely good administrators that understand the return on their money.”

The trade publication Loss Prevention Media defines organized retail crime as “any organized criminal, conspiratorial attack on the retail establishment” that involves “two or more persons engaged in illegally or fraudulently obtaining retail merchandise, tender, confidential data, and customer personally identifiable information for the sole purpose of converting it into criminal financial gain.”

Organized retail crime costs retailers an average of $US719,548 ($AU974,880) per $US1 ($AU1) billion in sales, a 2020 survey from the National Retail Federation found – a nearly 60% increase from 2015.

E-commerce is changing the game for professional shoplifting consortiums. While some brick-and-mortar pawn shops and flea markets still “fence” stolen goods, illegal operations have increasingly been able to disguise their crimes among legitimate online resellers.

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“Years ago, there was eBay, and that was it,” Glenn said. “Now there are probably 80 different large-scale online resellers out there, and not all of them have the same level of control and vetting.”

Plastic cases that must be opened by a store associate have become a common solution to ward off thieves. But for Home Depot’s asset-protection team, locking up all the valuable products seemed like a move that could “damage the brand,” Glenn said.

“We certainly don’t want to affect the 99.5% of our customers who are just there to pick up their hammers and nails,” Glenn said. “We don’t want to look like an armed encampment.”

The new point-of-sale activation feature will allow the company to combat theft without significantly altering the shopping experience, Glenn said. After getting its suppliers, vendor partners, and internal IT team on board, Home Depot tested the feature at a handful of stores. It will now roll out to a broader assortment, with the goal of scaling to all of Home Depot’s 1,988 US stores.

Glenn said he wasn’t concerned about a potential rise in power-tool chop shops given that thieves are typically attracted by the prospect of an easy score and products with a high resale value.

“While these criminals are good at what they do, I think they’re just going to go to the next easiest thing,” Glenn said.