Facts That Figure: The Shopping Cart - 8 Fun Facts

Facts That Figure: The Shopping Cart - 8 Fun Facts

The versatile shopping cart — also called the trolley or buggy, depending on where you live — has enlivened the shopping experience for moms and kids for generations. Here are eight facts about them:

1. As Old as The Supermarket

The original shipping cart was invented by the co-owner of the world’s first supermarket. When groceries or general stores were king, regular handheld baskets were sufficient for shoppers to carry the milk and eggs needed. But when those expanded to full-service markets which sold everything from fishing rods to fresh roe and from sweaters to sodas, a much larger cart was needed.

It was in 1937, and Sylvan Goldman was fiddling with a shopping basket when an idea struck him. The owner of Oklahoma’s Humpty Dumpty grocery chain — who would go on to purchase Piggly Wiggly, the world’s first supermarket — he thought of placing the basket on a folding chair which had wheels on bottom of the legs.

The invention did not take off right away — men considered it feminine to push a cart and women recoiled at pushing a carriage with groceries instead of a baby inside. But Goldman hired men and women to push the new cart through the store until it became mainstream.

2. The Stackable Arrives

The next tweak to the shopping cart came from a competitor of Goldman’s, Orla Watson. The biggest problem shops had with the cart was where to store so many of them. An engineer, Watson modified the design by adding a swinging panel in the rear to allow the carts to nestle inside each other. You can thank his invention the next time you see a worker pushing a row of 50 carts together.

Watson used the extra space this created by adding storage space underneath the wagon to keep bulky items.

3. Child on Board

The next major addition to the shopping cart came in the 1950s, also by Goldman, when he added child seats. Amazingly, seat belts weren’t added until 1982, when a teenage ShopRite employee watched as a toddler nearly fell out of a cart. Paul Giampavolo later watched a report that 9,000 children had been injured in the previous year from falling out of shopping carts. He asked his sister Susan, a seamstress, to sew a seat belt, and then began selling them under his new company, Safe-Strap.

4. How to Keep the Cart in the Store

With carts retailing at over $125 apiece, the item’s popularity became a costly proposition for storeowners. Homeless people would steal them to keep their belongings or housewives would wheel them home and forget to return them. Keeping them in stores very quickly became a priority.

The first attempt at anti-theft was patented in 1968 by Elmer Isaaks, who invented the “wheel lock.” His design placed a row of magnets under the pavement outside the store. When a cart rolled over the line, a magnetic mechanism would push a rod through a hole into the wheel, blocking it from going further.

ALDI, a German grocer which opened its first store in the United States in 1976, originated the idea of charging money for a cart, with a refund when the cart was returned.

But cart theft still bedevils storeowners.

5. The E-Commerce Shopping Cart

The shopping cart was so iconic that when internet shopping made its debut in the 1990s, it was the term given to a customer’s e-shopping choice. The online “shopping cart” was invented in 1995 by German tech entrepreneur Stephan Schambach.

The virtual shopping cart is constantly studied by online companies such as Amazon to analyze consumer behavior and predict which other items customers might want.

6. Shopping for the Blind

Shopping is likely one of the last frontiers for the blind. That was solved in 2009 by a professor and his students at Utah State University. The RobotCart, invented by Vladimir Kulyukin and his students, has on its handle a Braille listing of all items in the store. The shopper punches in the number of the product, and the cart will automatically start rolling toward that item, offering voice instructions to the shopper how to follow along. It avoids obstacles through a range of laser finders.

7. Ew, Carts Measure Third in Amount of Germs

Shopping carts can be pretty gross. A 2007 study found a range of human matter on its handles, as well as the blood and juices from raw meat and fish. In fact, shopping carts ranked third on the list of unhealthiest items in public to touch, behind playground equipment and city bus armrests.

Many stores regularly wipe the carts or provide sanitary wipes to customers. The PureCart cleaning system is like a mini car wash for shopping carts, spraying them with chemicals that claim to eliminate 99 percent of germs.

8. The Future of Shopping Carts

When Goldman first invented the shopping cart, it was linked to another invention of his — the self-serve concept. Before then, customers would have to ask a cashier to fill their order from items placed behind the register. Goldman conceived the idea of allowing customers to fill their order themselves and then paying up front.

With today’s technology, the concept of “self-serve” means something else entirely. Tech giants envision a store where a customer collects his items on an e-Cart, as Kroger has, or a Caper Cart Instacart, and takes them directly outside to their car. A chip calculates the cost and charges the credit card.

What do you think should be the shopping cart’s next tweak?

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