Bringing the Carts Back Home

Discussion
Jan 13, 2006
George Anderson

By George Anderson

The problem has been around as long as there have been shopping carts. Customers, or others, go to a store location and push shopping carts off the lot and then leave them on
city streets and in lots.

For many cities, towns and retailers, the situation only appears to be getting worse with each passing year.

A number of local communities, reports The Orange County (CA) Register, have hired cart-retrieval services to clean up strays. Anaheim’s service picked up 35,000 carts
in the past year.

Many retailers, particularly grocers, pay services to retrieve carts and some offer services, such as rides home to discourage shoppers from removing carts from store lots. Others
make use of technology that locks a cart’s wheels once it has reached the perimeter of a parking lot.

Retailers such as Aldi require shoppers to rent their carts. Customers insert a quarter to use a cart and are reimbursed the quarter when they return the cart to its queue. 

Moderator’s Comment: How big an issue is this for the retail industry? What do you think is the most cost-effective system for keeping carts on store
lots?

George Anderson – Moderator

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14 Comments on "Bringing the Carts Back Home"


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Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 1 month ago

This is probably a case for Cost Benefit Analysis. Even if the carts do cost $100 each, how many are actually lost, per store, per year? I have seen more than one situation where people borrow carts for good reasons (seniors and students without transportation who need to wheel their purchases home rather than carry them) which kind of nullifies the possible benefits of locking them into the parking lot. Rounding strays up from specified locations i.e. where students or seniors live, doesn’t cost the earth and provides them with a useful service. So basically I can’t see what the problem really is or why, in the scale of things, it is all that important or insurmountable. And just for the sake of casting my vote, I HATE paying for carts even when I get my money back and I ALWAYS return them to the little pens rather than abandoning them next to my car when I’ve unloaded. Maybe retailers should just clone me and make sure everyone else is as well behaved.

Martin Amadio
Guest
Martin Amadio
15 years 1 month ago

This begs the question, how will retailers deal with those very expensive video screens attached to shopping carts that are being tested?

John Rand
Guest
John Rand
15 years 1 month ago

Stop & Shop and others tried the coin-vending cart thing and the consumer hatred of it was intense. Even if grocers all adopted it, I would point out this is a pan-channel problem. There are runaway carts from liquor stores, home centers, and everyone else who ever uses them.

Of course it improves customer service to deliver goods to the car. One of the best small chains in the country is Roche Brothers here in central MA. – they have trained their people so well that you almost can’t make them let you take a front-end candy bar out of the store without someone wanting to help you get it to the car. They have no cart problem at all – and they do as much business in a 25000 square foot store as a lot of chains do it twice that space.

David Livingston
Guest
15 years 1 month ago

Good question and no easy answer. Anybody intent on taking a cart home is not going to be deterred by a 25 cent deposit. I know a few inner city supermarkets that exclusively use only stolen carts from their competitors. Generally carts seem to disappear most often in areas where people do not have cars, so improving customer service by taking groceries to the car is not an answer. I’ve noticed carts tend to end up at bus stops quite often. Concrete barricades and a security guard to prevent carts from leaving the vestibule of the store seem to work best. Another method that works well in difficult areas is gated shopping centers with only one way in and one way out with security guards housed at the entrance.

Warren Thayer
Guest
15 years 1 month ago
Working at the First National Supermarkets in Massachusetts, um, 40 years ago, I got an occasional break from cashiering to help people take their groceries out to the car. (Those were the days! Gas stations gave you coffee cups and checked the air in your tires… sigh.) And part of that job was to make sure nobody left the parking lot with a cart. A simple “excuse me” and an explanation was always enough. This has been an annoying problem for decades, obviously, and I don’t see it going away soon. The technology exists to lock wheels when they leave the lot, and I expect that will gain some more interest as pricing comes down and as the annoyance factor goes up. From what I’ve seen, people really hate to feed quarters into those little devices to get a cart, even if the money is returned later. If towns start penalizing stores for wayward carts, retailers in those markets will be incented to act sooner rather than later. But part of me wonders if it… Read more »
Charles Magowan
Guest
Charles Magowan
15 years 1 month ago

I second the sale of pull carts. When I worked in stores I suggested that we temporarily stock some for sale at cost. The idea worked very well and was implemented throughout the division.

The sale of the pull carts was particularly effective in reducing the removal of carts by elderly customers living within walking distance of the store. It had only a little impact on homeless persons because they like the big carts. It did nothing to stop teenagers from taking carts down to the railroad tracks for summary execution by locomotive.

Blazing Fox
Guest
Blazing Fox
15 years 1 month ago
I think that the biggest problem is low income or elderly individuals without transportation. These people simply don’t have any other way to get their groceries home. One alternative could be to offer smaller and cheaper “pull carts” to these people for use. They would use the same pull cart each week and bring it back and forth between home and the store. Customers in this position would consider this to be a great customer service benefit and the retailer wouldn’t lose as many carts. 1) The pull carts would be reused instead of having the individual taking a new cart home each week. I would assume that many of these people do not take the extra effort to bring back the cart on their next shopping trip. This results in a an additional lost cart each week if somebody doesn’t go out and round them up. 2) A standard shopping cart is actually NOT the easiest way to transport merchandise over long uneven stretches. The wheels are very unwieldy and the cart is very… Read more »
Christine Smith
Guest
Christine Smith
15 years 1 month ago

This is an interesting “debate” to me. Where I live (Toronto) almost all shopping carts require the deposit – and have done so for many years – and it’s becoming more and more common for retailers to purchase the wheel locking mechanisms.

The deposits apparently aren’t actually designed to be a deterrent for theft – that is, after all, what taking a cart is – but rather a way to encourage consumers to return carts to the corrals.

The wheel locks very efficiently do the trick.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
15 years 1 month ago
I agree that this is a case for a cost benefit analysis. Putting a quarter in the machine to get a cart is not enough money to deter someone who wants the cart. However, it is enough money to annoy loyal customers who bring the cart back. Good investment? I haven’t done the math, but probably not. So how many carts a week, month, year does a particular store lose? Are they lost to nearby apartment complexes housing seniors or students who don’t have cars? How much would it cost to investigate the problem and final destination of your missing carts? How much would it cost to have more people helping take carts out to the parking lot and/or having someone roaming the parking lot and watching for people who are about to walk off the property with the cart? How much would it cost to have students or seniors “rent” a cart and get their money back in the form of a coupon to be used toward their next purchase at the store when… Read more »
Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 1 month ago

If this was an easy problem to solve, it would’ve been solved already. Even if the towns don’t care about the carts, the retailers do, since they can easily cost $100 each. Warren’s suggestion improves customer service, which is great. And it pays to use technology, too. Some parking lots could utilize grates that would catch the wheels at each entrance curb, some need the radio wheel locks, and although the 25 cent deposits are annoying, if enough retailers do it simultaneously, no retailer will suffer. Some problems can’t be solved 100% but multiple simultaneous approaches will improve the situation.

David Livingston
Guest
15 years 1 month ago
Yes Bill, there would be conflicts of interest. I had one client who hired neighborhood kids to return carts and he came under fire for child labor and minimum wage issues because 8 year old kids were roaming the streets for hours looking for carts only to get a few dollars for their efforts. The local bodegas are also out looking for the carts to be used in their own stores. I was looking at a store one time in Durant, Oklahoma that had a sloping parking lot. At the end of the parking lot was a large ravine that was like a miniature Grand Canyon. I got to wondering if any carts ever rolled off the edge so I went to take a look. It was a shopping cart graveyard down there. There must have been 50 carts piled up in the creek below. Another time I was at a Kroger in a small town in rural Tennessee. Again a sloping parking lot. I pulled into a parking space and my car nudged a… Read more »
Bill Bittner
Guest
Bill Bittner
15 years 1 month ago

As George says, this has been a problem for quite a while, but the application of technology can certainly help. The proper technology to use probably depends upon the community. One area, where carts occasionally disappear because they “run off the lot,” is probably a candidate for the locking wheels that prevent the carts from leaving the lot. In an area where the customers walk to the store and many of them cannot afford a car, the cart is not only a tool for their groceries but also a way they get other things home and even a convenient toy for the neighborhood kids. I’m not saying the retailer has to provide playground equipment for the neighborhood, but under this circumstance maybe using the retrieval service makes more sense. It would even be better if they could figure out how to hire kids from the neighborhood to return the carts (there may be a “conflict of interest” with this approach that needs watching).

Al Katz
Guest
Al Katz
15 years 1 month ago
In this country’s experience of consumer cart behaviour we have other situations which contribute to cart losses. The food chains are losing (by damage, stealing, laziness, or pure ‘convenience’ on the customer’s part) about a third of their carts annually. This is outrageous, even though most stores have coin-deposit equipment, fully accepted by consumers. At a $1 per usage time, this remains a low price to pay for all those ‘borrowers’, including factories, restaurants, other businesses and anyone needing carts for warehouse purposes, direct mail delivery, etc. The ‘cheek and steal’ methods go on endlessly and once a year on a national holiday the kids take home carts in order to help them collect wood for bonfires. This activity starts some three to four weeks before the actual holiday. Of course these carts all return with wheels damaged, metal bent, and some even burnt. Some residents living in multifloor buildings keep a few carts on hand for carting their purchases from the carpark of their building to their apartments. The worst faulters are the smaller… Read more »
Joe Leathers
Guest
Joe Leathers
15 years 1 month ago

This really is a no brainer – a quarter to rent a cart will not be enough incentive for anyone to bring back a cart. Locking the wheels so the cart can’t move is the smart solution.

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