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How the Modern Grocery Cart Revolutionized Shopping

Thursday, December 29, 2022 2:03 PM

How the Modern Grocery Cart Revolutionized Shopping

A grocery store isn't a grocery store without a shopping cart. Shopping carts are virtually synonymous with the modern grocery store, but it hasn't always been that way. Like anything else, it had a long and varied history that made customers flock to and through stores at breakneck speed. To dive into the subject, we must understand the who and what of the grocery cart and how it made its home in shopping marts. So, how did the current grocery cart revolutionize shopping? We must start at the beginning. Read on below for more.

Who Was Sylvan Goldman?

To explore how the current shopping cart revolutionized shopping, we need to go back in time and meet the inventor, Sylvan Goldman. Sylvan National Goldman was the son of immigrants, and he grew up in stores, learning the fine art of business from his father and uncles, who owned grocery store chains across Tulsa, Oklahoma. He worked there from when he was 15 to 17 years of age. At 17, he enlisted in the Army and served in WWI. He was honorably discharged shortly after and, after leaving the military behind for good, joined his relatives in a series of popular grocery store chains throughout Oklahoma.

Eventually, he became president of the International Food Congress and the National Supermarket Institute. Unsurprisingly, he noticed a big problem and managed a solution that's a mainstay of grocery carts today. Goldman recognized an issue with his grocery store chain. Given that many grocery store chains in Oklahoma were filing for bankruptcy, he had to figure out a solution.

The Problem

In the 1930s, it was customary for grocery stores to provide their customers with a small wire or wooden basket to use as they flowed through the aisles. Unsurprisingly, when the basket became too heavy, customers would head to check out, pay for their wares, and go home. Given the negative impact on grocery stores, Sylvan recognized that this is likely why many went bankrupt. Customers weren't just choosing to buy fewer products; they couldn't buy more because there's only so much you can fit in your hands, and a basket can become too heavy and overburden you. This was the problem that Goldman innovatively solved. He found a way to make customer loads far more manageable than they were previously.

The Solution

One night Goldman looked at a wooden folding chair and had an epiphany. He had a few spare shopping baskets lying around—as you tend to do as the godfather of many grocery chains—and realized something.

He took one shopping cart from the basket. Then he put one under a chair while envisioning wheels on the legs and a handle behind it. He tinkered for a few months but settled on a flexible, convenient design that was easy to use and move around. You could even fold the frame and stack them side to side. This minimized storage space tremendously, allowing stores to hold more grocery carts than they needed for customers—initially. Soon everyone was using them, so stores required a surplus.

However, it wasn't a hit right out of the gate. Goldman hired a young lady to help customers set up their carts, but no one would use them. Women claimed they pushed too many buggies with their children to want to do it at a store, and men claimed they could carry products on their own—the reasoning was that carts would make them look weak. 

So, Sylvan came up with another idea. He hired attractive women and men to push the carts throughout the store, and when people asked about them, they said that everyone else was doing it, so why shouldn't they? What was the secret of the shopping cart’s popularity? Peer pressure.

By 1940 carts were exceedingly popular. So much so that store layouts get designed around their use. Aisles became larger, and check-out counters grew to accommodate the food that customers were carrying. The shopping cart model that we know and love, with one basket, got introduced in the 1950s.

More Iterations and Innovations

From the 1950s onward, innovations in shopping cart architecture spread like wildfire. You can get single or double-basket shopping carts. You can get them brand new or refurbished. Both options will be under a manufacturer's warranty. Refurbished carts are now less expensive, but they act brand new. Nowadays, you'll also notice that grocery carts are great advertising mediums for brand presence that companies can use to make an impression on customers and spread brand awareness. Today shopping carts come in many forms, with spaces for baby carriages, motorized carts with full baskets, and even mini carts made for people with disabilities. The ability to accommodate customers has dramatically improved over time and continues to advance as time goes by.

So, now that you know where we've come from with grocery carts and where we are presently, where are we going? We'll learn more about that below.

Technological Advancements and Ideas for the Future

Recently, we've been brainstorming all kinds of UX Design concepts and model changes to the shopping cart. These ideas are all designed to make shopping comfortable and convenient and improve on previous models, making them better for groceries. Students at MIT suggest that people put mini chargers on shopping carts for their phones and electronics. Innovators suggest omnidirectional wheels or even self-propelling carts that will move around with the help of an app or with a pre-inserted shopping list.

When asked for input about what they would like, many control groups suggested defined areas within the cart for specific items. This would allow a person to bag items appropriately by food group. There's always been logic to that strategy, such as not putting eggs in the same bag as red meats to avoid cross-contamination, but this would improve that process and make it more efficient.

Today's innovations revolve around smart carts. In Japan, some stores offer a self-checkout option from the cart, which allows customers to avoid long lines entirely. There are also apps for shopping carts that will load your shopping list and provide you with the most efficient route.

Shopping carts have a truly illustrious history and a sparkling future. What will come next? If you're interested in picking up some grocery carts, we have a wide selection here at Carriage Trade Services. Shop Carriage Trade today!

How the Modern Grocery Cart Revolutionized Shopping

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