Last week my mom mentioned she’d seen an article about how Home Depot and Lowes are dealing with a growing theft problem. My response shocked her more than a bit, so I thought I’d share (and expand on) it.
I’ve shared some articles here, in my links posts, about the theft problem, but it can be hard to really picture unless you’re actually working it.
The first thing you need to understand is that most companies have a policy in place that forbids the average employee from physically stopping a thief. We’re allowed, and encouraged, to be that annoying employee who won’t take “I don’t need help” as an answer. But anything more aggressive than that is forbidden. If we spot someone walking out the door with a cart we can ask for a receipt, but we can’t try to stop the cart, or grab their arm, or even really say anything more than “can I see your receipt”. Doing more than “customer service” can actually get you fired. Managers are allowed to be more aggressive, and Loss Prevention (or Asset Protection) employees are allowed to grab/stop/apprehend thieves. But the average cashier or sales person? Nope.
Now I have mixed thoughts on that. On the one hand, I’m glad I’m not expected to actually stop thieves, that’s dangerous and I agree that it’s not my job to put my life on the line for my employer. On the other hand: thieves KNOW this. They know they can load up a cart and not get stopped. So on more than one occasion I’ve wished I could do a BIT more.
HD, Lowes, and similar stores have been dealing with excessive theft for years. It only increased during the Covid lockdowns, and never decreased after everyone was let loose.
In garden: any power tool from Echo, Makita, Milwaukee, or Dewalt must be spider wrapped. Any tool from Milwaukee and Dewalt must also be cabled or behind bars. All other brands must be spider wrapped if they’re $150 or more. All power tool batteries must be cabled. All generators, and all power washers over $150 must be behind gates or bars. Anything locked up must be hand carried to the register by an associate. Oh, and BTW, with everything being forced to switch to battery power instead of gas you can guess how THATS going.
In Electrical they’re not allowed to stock out more than 2 at a time of the expensive breakers, and 90% of the smart home stuff has to be locked up. A huge selection of the speciality electrical tools are high theft risks.
Plumbing has to lock up many of the thermostats and some of the fancier water heaters. The smaller copper pipe fittings are also a huge theft risk.
Many of the vacuum cleaners have to be locked up.
Some 3/4 of the power tools in hardware have to be locked up or at least spider wrapped. Saw blades, from tiny to large, are also at high risk of theft. Power tool batteries again, anywhere in the store, require extra lockup.
Theres some variation between stores/regions in the specifics of whats locked up and how, but I’ll bet that even in higher end areas you’re going to see a larger number of spider wraps and cables than you did even 10yrs ago.
Couple years ago we had an incident here where a fire-alarm went off (was set off deliberately), and a couple thieves hid in the building till it was clear, then climbed the racking to get behind the bars and lift out generators and then push them out emergency exits.
Spider wraps that aren’t on tight enough are slipped off and left behind.
Packaging is cut open to steal batteries. I missed witnessing, by literal seconds, someone cut open several Dewalt battery powered lawn mowers and take the batteries (over $400 per mower, we “lost” the batteries from 8 mowers in 24hrs), I came around the corner in time to see him book it out of the aisle, batteries were concealed under his coat.
They know the cashiers aren’t allowed to do more than ask for a receipt, so they just walk on by the cashiers with their cartloads. Or they’ll have a car waiting right outside an emergency exit, so they’ll set off the alarm, toss everything in the car and be gone before anyone gets there.
Cashiers have died from being to aggressive about asking for a receipt with the wrong thief, mostly in Cali, none by me thankfully.
April 2022 there was a HUGE fire at a California HD, building burned to the ground. Thankfully the security video is piped off-site. Fire was set by a known thief who was trying to distract people and steal while the building was being evac’d.
These aren’t people who are desperate and broke and stealing the part needed to fix their toilet. These aren’t people who are out of work and stealing food for themselves or their children. This isn’t a desperate mother stealing a single bottle of laundry detergent so she can wash her kid’s clothes. I have seen that sort of theft, and contrary to popular media’s portrayal it is NOT a huge portion of the current theft problem.
These are people stealing in large volumes so that they can get money.
Some of them will turn around and try to return the items to stores for the refund. They’re hoping of course for the cash refund, but they’ll accept the store credit. There’s a reason Home Depot, and many other stores, have started requiring photo ID for just about any return that doesn’t have a receipt. Also, word of advice, if you DO get a store credit as your refund from HD, it is tied to your photo ID. It WILL NOT be accepted at the register without the same photo ID as was used at the refund. If someone offers you a store credit from a major store, as payment for something you’re selling: do NOT accept it. It will not work for you, and you’ll be out in the cold.
Some of them turn around sell these higher end items at half the price as the stores. Ever wander through the listings on Ebay, or Facebook Marketplace, various flea sales, or the like, and see listings for “new in package never used” batteries and power tools and tool accessories? Often with a description of “bought ages ago and it sat in the garage for the whole time so now I’m selling”? While I suppose it’s possible some of those folks are legit, the truth is the majority of them are reselling stolen goods. Be aware that none of the major power tool companies will honor a warranty on an item purchased through one of these marketplaces.
Some of them do both. They steal a tool set, remove the items from the package, pack something of similar weight back into the box, and attempt to return the package for a refund, while also selling the tool.
(the above photo was not taken by me, but that’s a Milwaukee tool set case, the tool set was worth upwards of $800 depending on exactly which set it was) I have personally seen cleaning chemicals returned where it was obvious a large portion of the liquid had been removed and the bottle refilled with water. Tools returned missing parts. Wheelbarrows, that I had personally pulled for the order and therefor knew was in good condition, returned with a bad, clearly worn, wheel 24hrs later.
A large portion of the problem is that more and more states have increased the minimum $ amount that has to be stolen before its considered a felony, and in those same areas the cops won’t even bother to arrest unless it hits that $ amount. And even if they are arrested for the felony theft, in many of those same states, they’re back on the street within a matter of hours or days because its a “non-violent offense”. I know our Loss Prevention guys have had trouble getting the cops to even arrest for the felony on occasion, because the cops know they’re just going to be let go again.
Another part of the problem is that these stores, like everyone else, continues to cut staffing levels. Having associates present in the aisle DOES prevent a large portion of the thefts. You wouldn’t think so, considering how brazen they are at walking by cashiers, but it does. But when there’s only one associate trying to cover the entire garden dept (for example) you can only be one place at once. It doesn’t do anything for the true smash and grabs, or flash mob style theft, but it absolutely deters the box cutters and the like.
Unfortunately the lockups and lower staffing levels also affects and annoys customers (which also reduces sales). And until these companies get their asses in gear and figures out that the solution is more staffing it’s only going to get worse.