Home Depot Is Selling Power Tools That Require Activation In-Store

Shoplifting is a major problem for many brick-and-mortar retail stores, and it seems that stealing and then selling power tools is a lucrative enterprise for some criminals. To combat this, Home Depot is starting to sell power tools that will not work unless they are activated at the checkout counter.

According to a 2020 survey in the US, “organized retail crime” cost retailers $719,548 per $1 billion dollars in revenue. One thief was recently arrested after stealing more than $17,000 worth of power tools from Home Depot. While many stores put high value items in locked display cases, Home Depot felt that this tactic would negatively affect sales, so they partnered with suppliers to add an internal kill switch. Although persistent criminals might find a way to deactivate this feature, it sounds like Home Depot is hoping that will be just enough trouble to convince most criminals to look for easier targets somewhere else.

We would be really interested in getting our hands on one of these power tools to see what this kill switch looks like and how it works. Something like a Bluetooth activated relay is one option, or maybe even something that is integrated directly in the motor controller. If it were up to us, we would probably pick something that receives power wirelessly using a coil and requires a unique code. For their sake, we hope it’s not something that can be deactivated with just a large magnet.

Thanks for the tip [Garth Bock]!

332 thoughts on “Home Depot Is Selling Power Tools That Require Activation In-Store

  1. So they are worried about 0.0007% of their revenue being taken? That’s basically the same as me complaining about loosing a penny. I don’t feel bad for them at all. I honestly hope they loose more by implementing these changes.

  2. This is honestly a pretty bad idea. This adds what likely amounts to a fairly significant amount of extra costs to the product design and production but will almost definitely do very little indeed. Putting aside that eventually they’ll figure out ways to reproduce the activation process itself, power tools are — by their very definition — simplistic devices. Typically little or nothing more than a battery for power connected to a motor via a switch (the trigger.) There simply isn’t room for more complexity in a power tool’s operation. You can stick a chip in between that cuts off the path, but bypassing the chip is as simple as running a wire across it. Even the battery — which likely does have a simple protection chip — can only add so much more to this. You could make its protection chip itself more complicated and it could be the device that “activates,” but again, this is easy enough to bypass (and experts could simply toss in a different protection chip to avoid the theoretical dangers inherent to bypassing the battery’s own protection chip.)

    There’s also another potential serious danger to this design choice. A device which requires activation could “forget” that activation later on under conditions such as the battery becoming severely undercharged (which happens quite easily with power tools after all.) While people have been carefully taught with other electronics that a model of tossing the old ones out to buy new ones on a frequent basis because newer is automatically better, this generally is not a thing that applies well to power tools. (Don’t get me wrong, to some extent this has happened even with them, but generally speaking people do not typically toss out old power tools and buy new ones very frequently.) If they stop working a year later — far outside any return or free repair windows — buyers will beware buying such products again — but that’s too late to prevent them from having been harmed by this whole thing.

    All this, and it adds extra costs onto the product which, ultimately, must be passed to the consumer. This is just a bad idea all around. The already tried and true method of adding simple tags to products that set off alarms is still much more reasonable (despite the false alarms such systems sometimes produce.) They merely need to refine that further.

  3. Manufacturers will go to all the trouble to develop a decent activation method at point of sale. Unfortunately a website that does reviews will post how it works so the thieves can easily work around it.

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