Last year, the Sheng Siong chain of supermarkets lost 90 metal trolleys and 180 plastic ones across its outlets on average each month.
That translates into a shocking $120,000 loss on just trolleys. And the supermarket chain is not alone.
In the past two years, NTUC FairPrice lost about 1,000 trolleys annually across more than 90 stores that provide them.
The supermarket chain said it spends about $150,000 annually on repairing, replacing and retrieving abandoned trolleys.
When asked if this was a rising trend, Sheng Siong said that they could not tell as some customers do return the trolleys, though not immediately, after use.
But in 2012, NTUC FairPrice lost only about 800 trolleys across over 80 stores, suggesting a rise in the number of unreturned trolleys as compared to 2014 and 2015.
For the supermarkets, store personnel retrieve the trolleys from nearby housing estates, pavements and taxi stands from time to time.
Customers are required to deposit a one-dollar coin into the metal trolley when they borrow one from Sheng Siong supermarket, but plastic ones do not require any deposit.
Likewise, NTUC FairPrice supermarkets' trolleys require a deposit of either a one-dollar coin from the old coin series or a 50-cent coin from the new coin series. Their baskets can be borrowed without a deposit.
To prevent more trolleys from being wheeled out of their stores, Sheng Siong has roped in their cashiers and frontline personnel to remind customers that the trolleys are meant for in-store use only.
A Sheng Siong spokesman said: "Should any customer wheel our trolley out of our store operating premises, our staff will approach the customer and assist in collecting it back."
One Sheng Siong outlet, however, has an interesting approach to tackling this problem.
For years, the supermarket branch at Block 6A, Woodlands Centre Road, has been asking customers to deposit one of their shopping items at the counter to ensure that they would come back to return the trolley.
The spokesman said: "That location is unique because it only has one trolley point, is sheltered and is near a carpark.
"Such a method of reminding customers to return the trolley is not so feasible in our other supermarket locations."
NTUC FairPrice has tackled this issue in a different way.
Apart from putting up signs at trolley points and playing pre-recorded messages in the stores to remind shoppers that trolleys should only be used in and around the store and returned thereafter, NTUC FairPrice has also partnered town councils to educate the public and encourage customers to be responsible in returning the trolleys.
An NTUC FairPrice spokesman said: "We're also in contact with community and government agencies to raise public awareness and education on responsible trolley use.
"We ask that our customers, too, help spread the word and remind their friends and family to return shopping trolleys so that the next customer gets to use it too."
Despite the trend of unreturned trolleys, Sheng Siong has not made any police reports so far.
NTUC FairPrice said they reserve the right to file a police report for any damage to their trolleys or for trolleys that are unreturned.
Its spokesman said: "We feel that public education and appealing to the innate responsible behaviour of shoppers would still be the best way to address this issue, even though it may take a longer time to change shoppers' behaviour."
Cold Storage, Giant and Mustafa Shopping Centre were unable to respond by press time.
Engineer Maximilian Tan, 25, who shops at NTUC FairPrice thrice a week, said: "People who don't return their trolleys after use are not doing a service to the community and to the supermarket because of the loss incurred to replace the unreturned trolleys."
Housewife Adeline Tan, 58, who shops at NTUC FairPrice every day and at Sheng Siong twice a week, said: "It's the moral responsibility of customers to return trolleys after use and people who don't do so are inconsiderate and selfish.
"Perhaps supermarkets can look into raising the amount of money required to borrow the trolleys as a deterrence to those who don't plan on returning them."
OTHER RELATED STORIES:
How other countries prevent trolley thefts
Australian supermarket chain Coles has fitted locks to the front wheels of its trolleys in its stores in Ipswich, Queensland. The locks are activated when shoppers go beyond the perimeter of the shopping centres that the supermarkets are in.
Security tags were attached to baskets at a Tesco supermarket store in Oldham, England, after a third of them were stolen when the supermarket started charging people for plastic bags.
Poles were fixed on to the trolleys at an Iceland supermarket store in Woodley, England, so that the trolleys could not be pushed through the exit doors.
This article was first published on January 26, 2016.
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