A 60 Second Guide to: Controlling Trolley Push-Out Thefts

Background and Context

A perennial concern for many retailers is the extent to which they are victims of thefts where stolen items are simply wheeled out using trolleys provided to consumers – trolley (cart) push-out thefts.

This study offers a unique insight into not only the scale and extent of the problem but also an evaluation of an intervention focussed upon addressing the issue of trolley push-out thefts – the Purchek technology developed by Gatekeeper Systems which utilises trolley wheel-locking technology.

The study uses data from two major UK Grocers, with combined sales of more than £50 billion and over 2,000 stores. Utilising data sets collected before and after the COVID-19 Pandemic, results are presented from 239 installations of the Intervention covering three 15-week periods. In addition, the study includes detailed analysis of over 900 recorded incidents of trolley push-outs.

Scale & Extent of Trolley Push-outs

  • It is estimated that a Grocery retail store that has some indicators of elevated levels of overall risk, with annual sales of approximately £40 million, is likely to experience at least 140 trolley-push-outs a year (almost three a week), costing in the regionof £31,500 a year. Put another way, it is calculated that trolley push-outs may account for approximately 4% of all unknown stock loss (shrinkage).
  • It is estimated that the average cost of a trolley push-out incident is £224, although some incidents were valued at more than £2,000.

Profile of Trolley Push-outs

  • Incidents costing £200 or more account for one quarter of all recorded incidents (26%) but represent nearly two-thirds of all the value (64%) – a relatively small proportion of high-value trolley push-outs generate a significant amount of loss.
  • Of those stopped, 21% went on to pay for the products they were trying to steal. Most acted alone, with just 10% being in concert with one or more other offenders.Those acting in a group (two or more) were far more likely to try and steal higher value quantities of stock – more than double the amount attempted by singleton offenders.
  • Incidents of trolley push-outs rarely lead to the involvement of the police – just 3% of recorded incidents made any reference to them being called/intervening.
  • There was little evidence that trolley push-out interventions were a generator of violence and/or verbal abuse – just 3% of recorded incidents, with no relationship found between the seriousness of the event (measured by value or number of offenders involved) and the likelihood of violence and verbal abuse to occur.
  • There was no evidence that trolley push-out offenders were typically known to security staff – just one per cent of incidents mentioned that the perpetrator was a known previous offender.The data clearly shows that a very large proportion of trolley push-out offenders have been operating below the ‘security radar’ of most retail stores.
  • When a trolley push-offender was stopped, some 18% offered a ‘reason’ for why they had no proof of purchase.The most common excuse offered was that a relative had the receipt, followed by a direct admission that they were trying to steal, then that they had forgotten to pay, or that they were on the way to their vehicle to get their wallet/cash to pay for the goods in the trolley. Interestingly, those that offered a reason were much more likely to go on and pay for the products they were attempting to steal.
  • On average, offenders who were found to be employing techniques to defeat other forms of retail security present in the store (such as using foil-lined bags, de-tagging products and attempting to distract security staff) were much more likely to be attempting to steal significantly higher value goods – more than double the average.

Average Weekly Value of Trolley Push-out Detections by Retailer

Overall, the research concludes that for retailers that offer their customers the use of a trolley, the threat of push-out thefts is both real and significant. In addition, the evidence presented in this report suggests that the use of the Purchek wheel locking technology has a very positive impact on this type of crime, offering an attractive ROI proposition for retailers investing in this system.

Impact of Trolley Push-out Intervention

  •  The findings showed a marked decline in the number of incidents and weekly value of losses associated with trolley push-outs after the Intervention had been installed for three weeks. This ‘golden period’ of deterrence would seem to have a profound effect upon the regular trolley push-out community who were made starkly aware of the utilisation of the Intervention. The number and value of losses declined by on average 49% and 47% respectively after the initial period of use of the Intervention.
  • A ROI model revealed that for a Grocery store with annual sales in the region of £40 million and an average installation cost of £30,000, the Discounted Payback Period for use of the Intervention was just over 1 year, generating a Net Present Value of £46,614 and an Internal Rate of Return of 70%.
  • The research highlighted the value of Alarm Activation Visibility offered by the Intervention – Kinetic Crime Prevention – offering security staff a much more unambiguous method of identifying which customer had triggered the exit alarm.
  • A key facet of the Intervention was its capability to deliver deterrence through an initial period of detection – a ‘golden period’ of potency in the early weeks after installation. For this to be achieved, however, the research found that it was critically important store staff were made available to respond to the alerts.
  • Like other loss prevention initiatives, the Intervention may be prone to the problem of displacement – particularly more determined and professional thieves adopting alternative methods to circumvent the technology. It will be important, therefore, for both retail users and the technology provider alike to carefully monitor developments in retail stores where the Intervention is in use to ensure that future offending ‘innovation’ is recognised and responded to accordingly.
  • The Intervention also generates a number of false positive alarms (incorrect alarm activations) – these need to be carefully controlled if the apparent potency of the Intervention is not to be undermined by growing user doubt about its efficacy and reliability.This might be achieved through future developments of the technology, bringing together the tried and test benefits of the current (analogue) physical approach – the locking wheel – with the growing capabilities being offered by digital video analytics.

For further information about the research contact Professor Adrian Beck: bna@le.ac.uk

For further information about Gatekeeper Systems: sales@gatekeepersystems.com