What will it take to build a better shopping cart?

Discussion
Source: Bayes Business School, City University London
Dec 06, 2021

A university study finds shopping carts with two parallel grips, instead of the standard single horizontal handlebar, could boost sales by 25 percent for grocers versus standard carts because they work the biceps instead of the triceps.

“Psychology research has proven that triceps activation is associated with rejecting things we don’t like – for example when we push or hold something away from us — while biceps activation is associated with things we do like — for example when we pull or hold something close to our body,” stated the researchers from London-based Bayes Business School in a press release. The study considered instead the use of a “newly-designed trolley with parallel handles — like that of a wheelbarrow — activates the biceps muscle.”

Bicep-flexing theories aside, shopping carts today remain largely similar to the one developed in the 1930s by Sylvan Goldman, then the owner of Oklahoma’s Humpty Dumpty supermarket chain. The invention, inspired by a folding chair, replaced small wooden or wire baskets that quickly became too heavy as shoppers added items in aisles.

The second major innovation to shopping carts came in the 1940s with the invention of the swinging rear door by Orla Watson that enabled carts to be stacked together to save space.

Among other innovations, Whole Foods in 2012 debuted a “Smarter Cart” equipped with a Microsoft Kinect sensor bar and a Windows 8 tablet that could detect what items were placed in it, match them to a shopping list and follow shoppers around the store on its own. The cart, from Chaotic Moon, spoke, responded to voice commands, offered recipe suggestions and identified when an item failed to meet an established dietary restriction such as being gluten-free.

In 2016, Dallas-based Dieste unveiled its AI-powered CartMate that offered shoppers the best routes around the store based on their shopping list. Based on past purchases, shopping list and social media activity, CartMate promised to find and suggest deals and coupons tailored to the shopper.

Neither project caught on, however, and not much breakthrough innovation has arrived elsewhere for the utilitarian shopping cart, a device a New York Times article this past October described as the “centerpiece of every grocery store run.”

In January, Kroger began testing a smart cart, the KroGo, that eliminates checkout.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Why hasn’t the standard shopping cart been modified much since its arrival early in the twentieth century? Do you still see a tech-infused, self-steering future for grocery shopping carts?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"A lighter cart with added electronic intelligence is overdue, but it has to be affordable to the retailer and very accurate. "
"Adding electronics to the existing carts is more likely to be accepted by the shopper and will add value to the shopping experience."
"For the same reason we don’t see a lot of innovation in the mousetrap market. The basic platform works really well and satisfies almost every customer requirement."

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24 Comments on "What will it take to build a better shopping cart?"


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Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

I’d be very happy to get a cart that actually rolls smoothly instead of one wheel being bent or that has a string that is clogging up the wheels. That would be a major improvement and provide a better shopping experience. Technology is not always the answer, sometimes the answer is plain old common sense.

Brent Biddulph
BrainTrust

Completely agree with Zel on this one. Would add this — retailers that do actually pay attention (and invest) in shopping carts and ongoing maintenance also separate themselves (in the minds of consumers) from others — it is a reflection of themselves.

And there are many that ignore this simple reality — take a simple example most all shoppers have experienced — Walmart (well worn, but usually the wobbly and noisy offenders, low cost wire carts) versus Target (higher end, mostly composite and much sturdier carts that rarely have “wobbly and noisy wheel” problems).

Jenn McMillen
BrainTrust

Please send the grocery list on my fridge to the smart shopping cart in the store, so it can tell me when I’ve walked by an item that’s on the list so I don’t have to backtrack. Now that would be innovation! The key is thinking about a shopping cart like a piece of tech instead of a means of conveyance, which it is currently.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Well the traditional cart design doesn’t stop people at Target from spending a fortune…

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

A lighter cart with added electronic intelligence is overdue, but it has to be affordable to the retailer and very accurate. Otherwise change the handles, make it lighter, improve the wheel mechanism and call it a decade for now.

Brian Cluster
BrainTrust
Yes, shopping carts do sometimes feel like a relic from the past because there have been no meaningful changes to them in decades. One of the biggest challenges of grocery shopping is finding an efficient route to the store when you are in a time crunch. Therefore a navigation system/store mapping system that you can voice activate or search on screen would be an improvement. Taking it to the next level, it would be interesting if you could upload your digital list through the app when you arrive, sync it to the grocery cart and then have several routes available to you that could be mapped. This would require solid location data and AI to map the customer list to the store location for all of the categories/items but I think that would solve one of the biggest frustrations navigating a store with over 25,000 items. Having the opted-in data of the shopping intentions of the customers could be a treasure trove of data and provide key insights about what items are popping up in… Read more »
Ken Morris
BrainTrust

Maybe the best shopping cart is no shopping cart at all. Perhaps robotic pick, pack and cart/prep for pickup is the way to go. I see a future where you don’t walk the aisles as you do today, but limit your shopping to produce, deli, and meat. Meanwhile, all ambient, chilled, and frozen items are picked robotically.

Strapping text to 1930s shopping carts does not seem to work at all. Smartphones will outsmart the store’s tablets every time, because they’re already personalized with the shopper’s favorite notes or list app.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

For the same reason we don’t see a lot of innovation in the mousetrap market. The basic platform works really well and satisfies almost every customer requirement.

Efforts to build a better cart by adding technology or interactivity have not really been successful. I believe, from practical experience, it’s because they add cost to the cart, and it adds lots of complexity to store operations to ensure that the screens are always working, that the experience is seamless for the customer and so on. The main focus for carts is durability and simplicity.

I would focus on adding a phone holder to the handle and figuring out a better way to keep them rolling in a straight line consistently.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust
Richard Hernandez
Merchant Director
11 months 28 days ago

I love the thought of adding more technology to the cart, but that will also increase the cost of the cart. Much like scan and go technology, it will have to prove a return on investment before more advanced technological carts will be the norm in the market.

David Spear
BrainTrust

The grocery cart is ripe for disruption from a form and function standpoint, but just adding intelligence is not the answer. A cart that greatly increases the overall customer experience is imperative. Anything less than this won’t meet capital expenditure ROI targets for most grocery retailers.

Melissa Minkow
BrainTrust

“If it ain’t broke…” the grocery cart as it is, is such a cornerstone aspect of an extremely routinized retail journey. Grocery behaviors are hard to change, and a new cart would be uncomfortable for most to adopt.

Until there’s a reason rooted in making the shopping experience more convenient, changing the cart won’t be widely embraced by consumers.

I’d love to see checkout happen automatically by putting items in the cart, but there needs to be room for consumers to change their minds. What if they decide they no longer want the item?

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Wow! If it were just that easy!

Jeff Weidauer
BrainTrust

Shopping carts haven’t changed much because they do what they were designed to do: hold products while we shop. The addition of child seats and cup holders has helped, but the basic design was right from the start. Improving on that design will take more than added electronics (expensive and prone to damage) – carts take a lot of abuse.

David Naumann
BrainTrust

One of the challenges with the early pilots of technology infused in shopping carts was that it didn’t integrate with consumers’ personal devices. An inexpensive solution is to have a cell phone holder mounted on the cart so shoppers can use their personal phone to easily view their shopping list or wayfinding app to locate the items on their list. This would also make it easier to transition to using consumer devices for self-scanning items while you shop for frictionless checkout.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

The short answer is, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Brian Cluster
BrainTrust

Look how many times the back of the seat at the airlines has changed. They have moved from overhead displays to back of the seat displays to app-based access via your own device with the better back of seat display holders and multiple types of power access. Could a more appropriate question be how can we improve the customer experience vs. is it broke?

Ron Margulis
BrainTrust

My first job at my dad’s supermarket was control/bagger, spending the day combing the lot for stray baskets. This was before the days of corrals and well before the motorized cart movers. On a typical Saturday, I’d handle well over 300 carts. Oh how I yearned for any technology to help me with those baskets!

There are two trends that will address this issue in different ways. The first is the move to automate the fulfillment of packaged goods will mean the cart of the future will mostly contain fresh and prepared items, so it should be smaller and dedicated to carrying products in random weight bags and containers. The second is the increased desire for convenience, so the cart should incorporate the checkout process including weighing those random weight items and managing payment.

Harley Feldman
BrainTrust

The standard shopping cart is in every grocery store and many discount stores. Everyone is used to the cart, and they are very similar in every store. Adding a new handled cart will be met with skepticism and reluctance for a long time. Adding electronics to the existing carts is more likely to be accepted by the shopper and will add value to the shopping experience. Any new technology added to the cart must be self-running, not require attention from the customer, and provide value to the shopper.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

The shopping cart is just one element in the shopping experience. The question should be “in the store of the future, how does the cart fit in and what does it look like?”

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

…Could boost sales by 25 percent for grocers versus standard carts because they work the biceps instead of the triceps.

I guess Tom just couldn’t hold this one ’til April 1st … but who could blame him?

This vies with Kohl’s “unlocking shareholder value” for the title of silliest argument of the day (week? month?), but unlike the mendacity of the latter, this at least brought a smile to my face.

As for shopping apparatus, the only improvement I see necessary is softer handles on baskets: nothing like having our hand dug into by a thinly-covered piece of wire.

Trevor Sumner
BrainTrust

The real world wear and tear on grocery carts is substantial (heavy products, kids, slamming carts into the cat park, etc). The operational overhead of charging, maintaining and fixing a fleet of smarter carts that get banged up makes this a very challenging problem. The solution is more likely smart-shelf digital and smart-shelf-to-mobile integration and messaging. This can be deployed more reliably and where failures are localized and don’t cause severe disruption of the underlying shopping process.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

Retailers have adopted a variety of different formats of shopping carts, so the assumption of the “typical” cart is a bit absurd. And the +25% sales increase that has to do with biceps seems a bit flimsy argument.

Now if a store didn’t have carts, and they introduced them, that might be more realistic, but stores own fleets of carts, and cart moving machines, and carts with auto-shopping links and WiFi, powered carts that move themselves, carts with a seat and driving mechanism, and probably the best innovation in carts — the coffee cup holder. This is proven tech, with many variations from home improvement stores to grocery chains.

Not expecting dramatic changes given the purpose for the cart is clear. Not expecting hammers with WiFi and unbreakable displays that identifies the right nail to hit anytime soon, either.

John Hyman
Guest
11 months 27 days ago

ShopRite recently “rolled out” (pun intended) a new plastic cart in two sizes. Each can hold a smart device (I use the mobile scan app the store developed on my phone for faster checkout), has a cup holder, and roll nicely. But the most clever thing is the hooks on the back, for reusable bags, etc. Low tech that works.

Anil Patel
BrainTrust

Some things are designed to fulfill a single purpose but are required to do it effectively. The shopping cart does its job pretty well and shoppers are more than satisfied with it. I personally enjoy playfully browsing through the store with the cart. There are numerous things that retailers can spend on that will yield far better outcomes than altering the grips on a shopping cart.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"A lighter cart with added electronic intelligence is overdue, but it has to be affordable to the retailer and very accurate. "
"Adding electronics to the existing carts is more likely to be accepted by the shopper and will add value to the shopping experience."
"For the same reason we don’t see a lot of innovation in the mousetrap market. The basic platform works really well and satisfies almost every customer requirement."

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