Shopping Cart Theft: AI Emerges as Powerful Weapon Against $800 Million Problem

Below, Oscar Arrieta (left), Director of Engineering at Hanwha Vision Mexico, and HeeKyoung Kim, Product Manager at Hanwha Vision, delve into a major challenge for the retail industry: shopping cart theft. They explore the different approaches to tackling this issue and explain how Hanwha Vision AI solutions can be a part of the answer.

Retailers around the globe suffer nearly $800 million in annual losses due to shopping cart thefts, according to the Food Marketing Institute in Washington, DC.

It’s estimated that two million shopping carts are stolen yearly worldwide, impacting all types of retail businesses, from global chains and large supermarkets to small family-owned stores.

The financial burden is substantial. Replacement costs per cart can range from $50 for basic traditional plastic shopping carts to even more than $1,000 for bigger and stronger models that either feature multiple tiers, have specialty child ride along attachments, or other accessories.

This expense accumulates rapidly for larger businesses and can be particularly devastating for smaller retailers that operate on slim margins. Additional costs include lost staff time trying to prevent or report on theft incidents. Businesses are also forced to dedicate valuable staff resources on the prevention and/or reporting of theft.

Environmental issues are also a concern. Abandoned plastic and metal carts often end up abandoned in urban and suburban areas, contributing to landfill waste and greater contamination of wildlife across various reserves and oceans.

So, how do retailers solve this longstanding issue without negatively impacting consumer experiences?

While shopping cart theft will likely always happen, there are a number of practical solutions that can help. However, any option selected must be carefully aligned to a store’s brand, the surrounding environment, and the needs of customers.

  • Wheel-Locking Carts

A number of popular supermarket chains that operate in various parts of the globe, have started to increasingly use carts with wheel locks. The typical scenario here is that the carts’ wheels will lock when triggered by automatic sensors, as customers leave a retailer’s store or parking lot.

Overall, businesses have reported some success in limiting or stopping theft, especially in urban areas where many consumers typically walk to the store location and have less overall baggage.

By comparison, for suburban shoppers, wheel-locking carts are not always ideal. This is especially true when retail outlets have large, busy parking lots, that force consumers to leave their vehicles far from store entrances.

  • Coin-Required Carts

In countries across Asia Pacific and Europe, retailers have adopted coin-operated shopping carts. Typically, the carts are connected by locking mechanisms that require the insertion of a coin or token to release an individual cart. By returning the cart to a designated area, customers get their coin back.

While many retailers have reported positive results by adopting these carts, it’s usually more about cost-savings than outright theft deterrence.

The deposit on a shopping cart is less about keeping customers from stealing it and more about getting the cart returned to its designated location for the next customer to use. This saves a retailer from needing to employ staff to track to and return carts.

  • Concierge Services

In various parts of the world, large retail chains, including suburban-based supermarkets and electronics businesses, offer concierge-like services where employees assist with transporting large orders to a customer’s vehicle at checkout. Obviously, this ensures that a store employee is handling the shopping cart and its safe return.

While this service may be appreciated by customers, it can reduce staff productivity.

Additionally, when a business is short-staffed—a frequent issue across all retail sectors—providing such concierge services becomes more challenging, increasing costs and the burden on the remaining staff.

  • AI-Powered Retail Solution

As a global leader in the video surveillance industry, Hanwha Vision works with retailers across every industry, including many of the world’s most iconic brands.

Powered by our advanced AI-powered security cameras and speakers, the Hanwha Vision Retail and Business AI pack empowers retailers to optimize operational efficiency across their entire store, from checkout lines and entrances to aisles, stockrooms, staff areas, loading docks, and parking lots.

This solution also detects and classifies people and shopping carts to help retailers instantly understand what’s happening in their stores, so they can make immediate adjustments as needed. This can include the number of visitors, busy areas, long queues, and the number of shopping carts being used.

When integrated with speakers, it can send automated notifications for specific events. For example, exceeding a set queue length triggers a request for staff assistance, while illegal or unauthorized behavior, like attempted shopping cart theft, will prompt a warning sound.

Hanwha Vision Retail and Business AI pack can send automated notifications for specific events.

These types of alerts can also play a key role in reducing shopping cart theft.

The Hanwha Vision Retail and Business AI pack can quickly detect and notify customers and store managers when carts are taken out of specific, designated areas, enabling store employees, managers, or security professionals to quickly retrieve abandoned carts, and prevent carts from being stolen.

When combined with Hanwha Vision‘s cloud-based business intelligence solution, SightMind, retailers gain even deeper business insights.

By presenting actionable data derived from Hanwha Vision‘s AI and security cameras in a user-friendly dashboard, SightMind assists store staff in enforcing safety measures and procedures, optimizing employee time management, and analyzing customer traffic patterns to drive sales and ensure optimal product visibility and display.

With shopping cart heatmapping and counting, retailers can gain valuable insights into family shopping patterns and product placement strategies, as well as shopping cart management and usage.

Retailers can gain valuable insights with shopping cart (or people) heatmapping and counting.

Shopping cart theft is an ongoing challenge for retailers, but the Hanwha Vision’s AI-powered retail solution is one of multiple valuable solutions to help address this problem.

Along with helping to reduce losses and the environmental impact of discarded carts, it also delivers crucial operational insights for every other part of the retailer’s operations, enabling them to improve safety, boost staff productivity, enhance customer experiences, and simplify compliance monitoring and reporting.

Hanwha Vision is the leader in global video surveillance with the world's best optical design / manufacturing technology and image processing technology focusing on video surveillance business for 30 years since 1990.