Beeping baskets new retail tool

Supermarkets are electronically tagging baskets after thousands started disappearing out the door.

Pak 'n Save Petone has used the electronic tags since late last year, and is believed to be one of a number of supermarkets who are tracking their baskets.

Several Countdown supermarkets are also keeping a closer electronic eye on their baskets.

Pak 'n Save Petone owner Leo O'Sullivan said the store had lost about 2000 baskets in 15 years but, since the tags were introduced, not one had gone missing.

He did not know why anyone would want a supermarket basket, but suspected many were taken absent-mindedly, rather than maliciously, and never returned.

"There must be a graveyard of baskets somewhere in Petone."

The tags mean the baskets cannot be carried past the supermarket doors without emitting a loud beep.

They are part of an increasingly wide range of tools retailers are using to prevent organised shoplifting and opportunistic theft.

These include sophisticated photo-sharing services, electronic micro-tagging of high-value items, and changing the layouts of stores.

The Retail Association estimates that, along with employee theft, shoplifting costs retailers $2 million a day.

Mr O'Sullivan said that, with each basket costing between $7 and $10, losing 2000 was not cheap.

And that was ignoring the trolleys, which cost about $200 to replace and had been disappearing at a rate of 50 a year.

From late 2012, the supermarket has also had a sensor system installed that immobilises trolleys before they leave the car park. So far it appeared to be working, he said.

"We used to go around every week and find about 25 scattered throughout Petone. Now we don't even find one."

Countdown also uses basket-tracking in some of its stores, although a spokeswoman declined to say where.

She said staff awareness and aisle layouts were far more important than technology in preventing theft, whether it was of trolleys or cheese.

Staff, particularly people working with trolleys, were trained to approach any shoppers looking suspicious, and give them a friendly greeting.

"It just puts people on guard that you have seen them."

An open layout with no secluded corners, particularly where alcohol was sold, also helped, she said.

"You are alway going to get some people that break the law, but a lot of people can be persuaded not to. A lot of it is just opportunism."

Retail security consultant Steve Davis said technology could easily be foiled by experienced thieves, but vigilant staff were harder to fool.

The Dominion Post