Do retail robots reduce theft?

retail automation

Experts in robotics, AI, and cybersecurity are here to help retailers get a grip on theft. Leveraging security robots might be the answer to combat shoplifting. Implementing them in brick-and-mortar stores impacts industry professionals and casual shoppers equally.

Each will learn to operate and navigate new tools to keep inventory, workforces, and shoppers safer. How do storefronts employ robots to minimize theft, and how effective are they compared to conventional techniques?

Understanding the Theft Landscape and Retail Robotics

Retailers saw a 26.5% increase in theft and crime in 2022, continuing upward. The theft landscape is increasingly urgent. After supply chain disruptions, the rise of e-commerce, and the abandonment of malls, retailers must do everything to keep products safe and profits secure.

Retail robotics is an umbrella. It covers all robot types and automation technologies assisting with operations. For example, smart locker systems protect employees’ personal belongings from theft. Physical robots follow a programmed path around store aisles, looking for incidents.

Big box outlets like Target and Dick’s Sporting Goods report theft as their central source of shrink. The stores lost $219.5 and $27.1 million in one quarter compared to the previous year, respectively, and a single shoplifting incident could cost retailers $461.86 on average. The numbers are telling in how companies attribute financial losses. Other major retail players suggest organized theft is a top worry.

Conventional methods have become less effective with modern technology. Retailers need more than scare tactics from security cameras. Tools preventing theft are more relevant because security footage rarely works to retrieve what the retailer lost, even if filing a police report. Outdated, expensive surveillance systems revealed the path for retail robots to remind thieves that oversight and prevention methods are ready.

The Role of Retail Robots in Theft Prevention

Retail robotics extend past these examples. Additional use cases provide more holistic theft protection assets, from monitoring to prevention.

Click-and-collect systems are one innovation. They are similar to curbside pickup, where shoppers verify their identity in an electronic kiosk before obtaining purchased goods. It prevents thieves from entering the store to take items from shelves and gets shoppers their much-desired groceries, clothes, or electronics. The industry will reach a worth of $109.36 billion by 2024.

The Internet of Things (IoT) has many devices capable of reducing retail theft. Sensors, smart tags, and other equipment maintain more significant visibility over the floor. IoT-enhanced retail robots know how products move from shelf to point-of-sale and notice suspicious activity. Here are a few popular IoT theft prevention integrations:

  • Smart shelves: Records inventory changes and reports anomalies.
  • Geofences: Uses GPS sensors to detect suspicious movement or when electronically tagged items leave the store’s perimeter.
  • RFID: Employs hard-to-remove tracking tags that shoplifters struggle to tamper with.

More complex models involve cobots, inventory management, and autonomous security robots. People most commonly associate these fixtures with shoplifting prevention because they have cameras to record activity.

Advanced Technologies Enhancing Security

Explore the potential of more futuristic retail robotics technologies. AI integration is trending right now, as it is with every industry. AI-embedded retail robots often include machine learning functionalities. The tools learn shoppers’ behaviors and threat patterns for swift detection, remediation, and alerting. The AI’s effectiveness increases the more it trains on incoming data.

Facial recognition is another developing retail robotics feature. Stores like Macy’s and Rite Aid are a few early adopters. The collected footage references a database to identify potential shoplifters and suspected criminals. The accuracy of facial recognition for this use is still up for debate.

Other advanced theft-prevention robotics technologies include:

  • Heat mapping
  • Cash Automation
  • AI-powered video cameras
  • LiDAR scanning
  • Cellphone serial number identification

The Effectiveness of Retail Robots in Reducing Theft

Do security robots have additional advantages over cameras and workforces? These boons are the driving forces behind retailer interest:

  • Reduced human error from staff tiredness or distractedness
  • Improved visibility through independent navigation with minimal human intervention
  • Bolstered staffing to supplement turnover rates and shortages
  • Enhanced safety for staff because of less exposure to potentially life-threatening crime

How effective are retail robots compared to legacy security solutions? The evidence remains inconclusive. The story of Knightscope is one of the most prominent tales about robotic patrol effectiveness. The company created robots about 5 feet tall, which use sensors and cameras to “predict and prevent crime,” including theft. It had many high-profile clients, such as police departments, casinos, and malls.

Despite widespread usage and data collection, there was little evidence the robots delivered consistent, verifiable results. This reality asserts how much research experts have yet to accomplish.

Experts claim a single solution to the complex theft problem does not exist. Robotics are unlikely to be that panacea. A notable case study concerned a robot in California that lowered park crime numbers from 48 to 26. Positive results are evident. However, the police department admitted not using the robot’s full capabilities, like viewing live camera footage. They praised the robot’s presence as a physical deterrent.

Case Studies on Retail Robots Implementation

Retail robots have had mixed success. Case studies highlight the optimistic and abandoned hopes for refining them for theft prevention.


Tally from Simbe Robotics is the rising star of retail robots. Numerous grocers like SpartanNash look to employ Tally for inventory and shoplifting tracking. Its thrice-daily store audits are 99% accurate compared to the 65% accuracy of manual staff checks.

Simbe Robotics markets Tally more for stock management, though it may be a theft deterrent. Why is this important in contrast to other retail robot narratives? It is a clever public image move, as it is seeing more market success and funding resilience than Knightscope. A retail robot focused on products will still catch shoplifters by cross-referencing inventory and sales, but customers may feel more at ease in its presence with this branding style.


In 2019, Amazon piloted a retail robot called Scout. Its objective was to deliver packages while reducing theft with a locking mechanism. The magnetic locks kept boxes sealed at doorsteps until the owner arrived to verify their identity. Then, Scout would reveal the package. During testing, the method was effective.

The rolling robot had GPS, radar, and cameras around its exterior with enough accuracy to stop a roaming street cat. Unfortunately, Amazon’s faith in the project deteriorated due to budget cuts.


Lowe needed to act on retail shrinkage as stores face closures. It sought the aid of Knightscope and its K5 robot to supplement security guards. The model contained 16 microphones and 360-degree, real-time monitoring with numerous sensors. The retail robots even scan license plates. The business claims it is a viable method to discover trespassers, such as terminated employees.

Implementation may be a triumph as Lowe’s has taken additional measures to protect its products, such as putting more tools under lock and key.

Ethical Considerations, Privacy Concerns and Challenges

Retail robotics have a positive intention to dissuade thieves. Even guiltless shoppers have concerns over their privacy and whether stores use the technology for the right reasons.

For example, facial recognition technology has incorrectly attributed crimes to several individuals due to AI racial and gender bias. It also needs improvement. A student sued Apple in 2019 for its inaccurate facial recognition system that pinned multiple crimes on him. Stores are not asking for consent to have shoppers’ likenesses scraped or used to train an AI. Similar situations apply to autonomous robots, which constantly collect video footage in what many perceive to be a dystopian future.

New England’s Stop and Shop grocery store had 325 robots named Marty. Shoppers thought they roamed the aisles to prevent shoplifters and keep them safe. The $35,000 looming robot only monitored the floor, confusing and scaring guests. Instances like these accent how much public buy-in matters to retail robotics.

People do not want robots following them, appearing to record their every move. A lack of education surrounding the potential of retail robotics is significant, barring an understanding of their utility. Retail robotics’s unadulterated value is only possible by overcoming these barriers.

Ramping up Robotics in Retail

Companies have peace of mind when having robotic staff protect their stocks. It helps customers and teams stay protected from crime while discouraging and reducing theft frequency. AI- and robotics-powered storefronts embolden security despite plenty of room for improvement. It’s encouraged to support these innovations so they advance quickly to become more accurate, dependable, and capable.