- Nearly 2 million shopping carts are stolen each year, costing retailers an estimated $800 million.
- Videos of shoppers battling anti-theft devices on carts in a Target parking lot have gone viral on TikTok.
- The reaction to the clip reveals how frustrating loss-prevention measures can be for customers.
On a drizzly December day in Olympia, Washington, a woman in a red windbreaker is rolling her Target shopping cart laden with a stack of baskets when she abruptly grinds to a halt.
“Skrrrt! It’s done!” A TikToker going by the name Taylor Ann cheerfully narrates in a video of the moment, which has amassed over 4.4 million views on TikTok. The TikToker did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.
The red-jacketed customer — one of a half-dozen stymied shoppers in the clip — eventually resorted to what Taylor Ann described as “the bunny trick,” doing little wheelies to hop her cart a few feet closer to her vehicle.
All were victims of an unfortunate combination of apparently crowded holiday parking lots and a likely new rollout of a cart-control system from Gatekeeper, the shopping cart loss-prevention provider that says it serves 47 of the 50 largest retailers in the world.
Whether and when a particular store gets Gatekeeper for its carts is determined on an individual store basis, a Target spokesperson told Insider. The company declined to comment on this specific instance.
Taylor Ann acknowledges the technology has been around for years, but it can still come as a surprise when it arrives at your store.
The system typically depends on an embedded antenna that works as an invisible fence, though some locations have a wireless solution that has a signal range of about 40 feet.
While the hardwired system is supposed to unlock carts that return within the perimeter, the video from Taylor Ann appears to show the wireless system failing to release carts that have ventured a bit too far. A growing herd of abandoned carts can be seen in the foreground as exasperated shoppers struggle to drag empty ones from the spot where they froze.
The same TikToker even returned for a second day to film a Part 2.
Gatekeeper says stores routinely shell out $15,000 per year for cart retrieval, maintenance, replacement, and fines from local governments for abandoned property. The Food Marketing Institute meanwhile estimates that 2 million shopping carts are stolen each year, costing retailers an upwards of $800 million globally.
Elsewhere in retail the push to reduce losses — or shrinkage, in industry parlance — can lead to real headaches for everyday customers who simply want to grab shampoo or razor blades only to encounter locked cabinets.
“I believe that it has progressed from slightly annoying to more than inconvenient,” Matthew Hollenbeck of Cape Coral, Florida, told Insider’s Ben Tobin.
Cart theft is part of a larger problem retailers say costs the industry nearly $100 billion, and stricter countermeasures run the risk of a 15% to 25% drop in sales, a security device maker told Forbes.
Loss-prevention remains a delicate balance for retailers as Walmart’s vice president of asset protection and retail operations, David Johnston, told Insider. “Long term, it’s probably not great for the customer experience.”