Lowe’s pioneers system to solve organized retail crime

Lowe’s Companies, Inc. has innovated – and successfully tested – a new system geared towards tackling organized retail crime in a frictionless and almost invisible manner. 

It’s called Project Unlock, and it’s a proof-of-concept system that underscores how there are methods to solving this industry-wide problem without having to lock up every product on the shelf, Lowe’s Chief Digital and Information Officer Seemantini Godbole told FOX Business in an exclusive interview. 

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On average, there was a 26.5% increase in organized retail crime in 2021, costing the industry almost $100 billion, according to the latest data from the National Retail Federation (NRF). 

So far, the solution has been to lock up products, which Godbole says is “disrupting an enjoyable experience that customers rightfully should have.” 

“As you can see, all the retailers are locking down stuff and putting physical locks on the product,” Godbole said. “We said you know, we wish we had digital locks…we could enable and disable with technology. 

Lowe's Project Unlock

Lowe’s creates prototype to demonstrate how Project Unlock works using their in-house brand Flex.  (Lowe’s)

Project Unlock was created, and demonstrated at the NRF’s 2023 expo in New York City last week, to prove that technology can be leveraged to solve organized retail crime without hindering the shopping experience for law-abiding citizens.  

Over the last 12 to 18 months, Lowe’s Innovation Labs has been testing out the system which utilizes RFID [Radio Frequency Identity] chips, scanners and blockchain. 

If implemented, it would render a stolen tool inoperable which would discourage bad actors and in turn, keep employees safe, according to Godbole. 

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Lowe's

Lowe’s creates prototype to demonstrate how Project Unlock works using their in-house brand Flex.  (Lowe’s)

To work, manufactures would first have to embed a wireless RFID (Radio Frequency Identity) chip into a power tool product. The chip is already pre-loaded with the items serial number. It is also embedded in the box’s barcode. 

The product is set to inoperable up until the moment the customer pays for it. An RFID scanner at the register would then read the chip and activate the tool for use.  

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“Only products that are legitimately purchased are activated,” according to Lowe’s Innovation Labs. “If a power tool is stolen, it won’t work, which makes it less valuable to steal.” 

If implemented, the idea is that word will spread “pretty quickly that stealing these tools this way is not worth it because it’ll never work,” Godbole said. 

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Customers don’t do anything different. If the tool was legitimately purchased, it will be ready for use the moment you walk out of the store, according to Godbole. 

The process is essentially “invisible for the customer,” she continued. “They should not even know that there’s anything extra happening.” 

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Once a customer purchases the product, the transaction will also be recorded to the blockchain. 

This record, which doesn’t involve any personal data, can then be used by retailers and law enforcement officials to validate an authentic purchase. 

Lowe's Project Unlock

Lowe’s creates prototype to demonstrate how Project Unlock works using their in-house brand Flex.  (Lowe’s)

Godbole said this system isn’t meant to necessarily replace asset protection teams but rather help them “combat this [organized retail crime] more effectively” without putting associates in harms way, she added. 

“We want our associates to be safe,” Godbole said. “Organized retail crime is happening..in the broad daylight, in the presence of associates and other customers.” 

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Now that Lowe’s has proven this system works, the company is trying to work with leaders in manufacturing, retail, tech, loss prevention and law enforcement about adopting ways to enhance the transparency of legitimate purchases just as Project Unlock demonstrates. 

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