It’s hard to argue with the convenience shopping carts have added to our shopping experience. But upon further inspection this seemingly innocuous invention may be both a cause and symptom of some of society’s gravest ills.
In 1937, Sylvan Goldman the owner of Humpty Dumpty grocery stores in Oklahoma created the first shopping cart by attaching wheels and two shopping baskets to a chair. His goal wasn’t shopper convenience but a desire for people to be able to carry more groceries around and out of his stores.
People initially resisted as men found them too effeminate and women didn’t want to push around something that felt like another stroller. To overcome this Goldman hired attractive models (both men and women) to use the carts in store.
His vision proved prosperous as studies now show that the mere presence of shopping carts results in more sales. A fact that anyone who has ever used a shopping cart in Target can attest to. You walk in for toothpaste and shampoo and leave $200 later wondering what just happened.
And therein lies the first problem. We didn’t need a shopping cart, the store did.
We used to shop to buy what we needed and could carry and now instead fill a cart with things we want and can wheel out of the store. This simple shift helped usher in a new era of consumer debt and waste.
For example, since the introduction of the shopping cart, household debt has quadrupled and the average American now throws out 300 pounds of food every year. Imagine the increased waste and debt that will come with checkout-less stores, now in pilot, where scanners just charge you as you add things to your cart, never needing to stop and pay before you leave.
Perhaps more alarming than the negative impact of shopping carts inside the store is what it says about us when they move outside of it.
During a recent late night grocery store trip, I encountered what looked like a graveyard of abandoned shopping carts, witnessing a perfectly fit man load his groceries into his car and pull away, adding to this collection.
I wondered if he thought about the person who could not pull into that parking space now littered with a cart or the employee who had trudge around in the rain collecting these from the far corners of the lot. A thoughtless gesture signaling our disconnected times.
The reality is that convenience almost always comes with hidden costs. Some we blindly pay ourselves and others we carelessly thrust on our neighbors.
So the next time you're shopping, maybe opt for a basket or at least return your cart. Either way, you'll be saving something.