Every 90 seconds, a shopping cart is stolen somewhere in the United States. That statistic is a nightmare for grocery retailers. Missing carriages (which cost between $75 and $100 apiece) represent big losses for supermarkets?more than $800 million a year. Abandoned cart liability and nuisance complaints have led to hefty fines for some retailers, while others have had to invest in carriage retrieval services to track down carts that have gone MIA.
Some supermarkets have taken matters into their own hands, installing cart-retention devices on their carriages that literally stop shopping-cart thieves in their tracks. The Cart Anti-theft Protection System (CAPS) from San Diego-based Carttronics includes custom electronic shopping cart wheels that incorporate a digital receiver and replaces one of a cart’s standard casters with a braking device. CAPS also includes a radio frequency transmitter and an antenna buried around the perimeter of the retailer’s property. That transmitter generates a signal along the antenna line. When a cart rolls too near the line, the caster’s receiver intercepts the signal and a brake is released that rolls under the wheel to stop the cart. The K-2000, from Sacramento, Calif.-based Kart Saver, uses an infrared-driven system that includes a device attached to the left front wheel of the cart that sounds an alarm and causes the carriage to go in circles when a customer exceeds a preset distance from the store.
Harold Slawsby, who owns two Save-A-Lot grocery stores in Massachusetts, installed the Kart Saver system in spring 2001 in his Boston location, which had been losing about 10 carts a week. He spent $18,000 to equip 135 carts and says the system has already paid for itself. “Before, we had to pay to send out a carriage retrieval service six days a week to cruise the area and look for our carts. It wasn’t just that they’d disappear for good; sometimes, they were just missing when you needed them, or they’d incur damage when they were out,” says Slawsby, adding that the carriage retrieval service now goes out only twice a week, and he’s lost only about 18 carts since installing the system a year ago. “You’re never going to be able to stop someone who really wants to take a cart,” he admits, “but at least they’ve got to put in some extra effort now.”