The digital content market has a big problem with piracy and most still resort to DRM technologies to fight it. Theft, however, has been a problem for millennia, and various tools, systems, and laws have been put in place to deter it, sometimes ineffectively. These days, retailers have resorted to technology-based solutions to either prevent theft or catch thieves, and Home Depot is applying a rather novel idea to discourage shoplifting by requiring its power tools to be activated at a register before they can be used.
This sounds almost like DRM for power tools, except it’s set in place to stop a stolen product from working in the first place. Power tools are almost too easy to sneak out of large stores like Home Depot, especially when organized retail crime groups are involved. In order to deter theft, Home Depot’s power tools won’t work unless you have them activated, which can only be done at a register after paying for the item.
According to Business Insider (who also provided the image above), the system uses Bluetooth technology to activate the power tool once it has been paid for. Without that activation, the product is essentially useless except as a source for spare parts. Home Depot VP of asset protection Scott Glenn apparently isn’t too concerned about that scenario because criminals would just move on to something easier and more profitable.
The system, however, could also result in a rise in online scams. Just as e-commerce changed the game for “professional shoplifters” by allowing them to hide among legitimate online resellers, it could also help them make a quick buck out of unusable stolen power tools. People buying from such resellers might not be aware that they are purchasing a product they can’t even use because it wasn’t activated first.
Home Depot plans to roll out this new theft deterrent technology across its 1,988 stores in the US. Organized retail crime has reportedly cost retailers nearly $720,000 per $1 billion in sales based on a 2020 survey, which probably isn’t surprising given what happened last year. It might take a matter of time before the new system could be judged effective, at least after the word gets out on the street that Home Depot’s power tools are broken unless you pay for them.