Home Depot uses Bluetooth to prevent stolen items from working and combat organized retail crime

Home Depot Inc. is using Bluetooth to deter organized retail crime, such as coordinated groups that steal from the retailer and take the goods to pawnshops or resell them on online marketplaces.

Home Depot is piloting the use of the technology on power tools at select stores across select states. The technology activates at the cash register or other point of sale, allowing the purchased items to work once they leave the store. A stolen item equipped with this Bluetooth technology won’t operate.

“The value of any product is its ability to work,” said Christina Cornell, a spokesperson for Home Depot. “If we take that away, there’s no reason to steal it.”

The idea is akin to the way gift cards work; on the rack, they have no value. Money is added to the cards at checkout.

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The Bluetooth technology is applied on the item rather than its box or other packaging. The home-improvement chain is working with partners like Stanley Black & Decker Inc. on the program. Home Depot is considering other items with high resale value, like smart-home merchandise, for the Bluetooth effort.

Cornell said the company has seen an uptick in crime, and attributes it to organized groups, which may then use money from the resale of the stolen goods to fund other criminal activity.

Home Depot, like many other retailers, according to Cornell, has an internal group that is dedicated to monitoring these crimes and works with law enforcement on the issue.

Home Depot is on the lookout for other measures to deal with the problem. “We’re trying to fight this on all fronts. We need to make it ■■■■■■ to steal from our stores,” Cornell said. “Another is need is for law enforcement and prosecutors to think of this as more than property crime. We need more accountability and verification on marketplaces.”

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Home Depot has partnered with the Buy Safe America Coalition in support of the INFORM Consumers Act, legislation that would require verification of independent sellers on online marketplaces. The Buy Safe America Coalition represents consumer groups, retailers, manufacturers and others in an effort to stop the sale of counterfeit goods and stolen items.

“By bolstering transparency and ensuring accountability, professional criminals would be less likely to rely on e-commerce platforms to peddle stolen products,” Buy Safe America wrote in an email.

Home Depot didn’t put a dollar amount to the cost of organized crime to the company, nor did the company say how much the Bluetooth pilot is costing.

“Until thieves figure out [that stealing items from Home Depot is] not worth it, there will be some loss,” Cornell said.

The shoplifting problem is large enough that other retailers are also taking action to prevent it.

Target Corp. changed its store hours in California earlier this month after an “alarming rise” in shoplifting.

Thieves have been caught on camera at stores operated by Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. and Neiman Marcus in recent weeks.

See: Target shortens hours in San Francisco due to ‘alarming rise’ in shoplifting

While Home Depot is working to block criminals, the company says it still wants to provide a welcoming shopping environment for paying customers. “We don’t want to impact customer experience so stores become a fortress,” she said. “We’re trying to think of ways that won’t impact the 98% of consumers shopping legitimately.”

Home Depot’s stock has run up 23.2% in 2021 while the Dow Jones Industrial Average has gained 14.6% over that period.