go, carts!

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Abandoned shopping carts could be a sign of social dysfunction.
Abandoned shopping carts could be a sign of social dysfunction.
The reason some people never return shopping carts, according to science.
On the spectrum of aberrant behavior, leaving a shopping cart in the middle of a parking space doesn’t quite rise to the level of homicide. But poor cart etiquette is nonetheless a breakdown of the social fabric, one in which some consumers express little regard for others by failing to return a cart to its proper place. Why does this happen?

In a piece for Scientific American, Krystal D’Costa examined some plausible reasons why shoppers avoid the cart receptacle. It might be too far from where they parked, they might have a child that makes returning it difficult, the weather might be bad, or they might have physical limitations that make returning it challenging. Alternately, they may simply believe it’s the job of the supermarket or store employee to fetch their used cart.

According to D’Costa, cart returners might be motivated by social pressure—they fear a disapproving glance from others—or precedent. If no other carts have been tossed aside, they don’t want to be first.

People who are goal-driven aren’t necessarily concerned with such factors. Their desire to get home, remain with their child, or stay dry overrides societal guidelines.

Ignoring those norms if a person feels they’re not alone in doing so was examined in a study published in the journal Science in 2008. In the experiment, researchers observed two alleys where bicycles were parked. Both alleys had signs posted prohibiting graffiti. Despite the sign, one of them had markings on the surfaces. Researchers then stuck a flyer to the bicycle handles to see how riders would react. In the alley with graffiti, 69 percent threw it aside or stuck it on another bicycle. In the alley with no graffiti, only 33 percent of the subjects littered. The lesson? People might be more likely to abandon social order if the environment surrounding them is already exhibiting signs of neglect.

In another experiment, researchers performed the flyer trial with a parking lot that had carts organized and carts scattered around at separate times. When carts were everywhere, 58 percent of people left the flyers on the ground compared to 30 percent when the carts were cared for.

Social examples are clearly influential. The more people return carts, the more likely others will do the same. There will, of course, be outliers. Some readers wrote to D’Costa following her first piece to state that they didn’t return carts in order to keep store workers busy and gainfully employed, that the primary function of those staff members is to get the carts back to the store, even though it’s rarely their primary job. Until returning carts becomes universally-accepted behavior, random carts will remain a fixture of parking lots. And Aldi will continue charging a quarter deposit to grab one.

and –

in recent shopping cart returning news:

Meijer employee celebrated for returning millionth cart .

Dave Esch demonstrates returning carts on Wednesday, July 20, 2022, at the Meijer in Grand Ledge. Esch was celebrated for returning his millionth shopping cart as an employee of the store.

Dave Esch demonstrates returning carts on July 20, 2022, at the Meijer in Grand Ledge, MI.
Esch was celebrated for returning his millionth shopping cart as an employee of the store.

“the worst wheel of the cart makes the most noise.”

-benjamin franklin

87 responses »

  1. This is an interesting perspective on how we are slowing losing our societal norms. And not in a good way. The only thing that keeps us from returning a cart is convenience. We find it inconvenient to think of others. Great post, Beth!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This has been one of my major customer pet peeves in all my years in retail now. I shall not rant about it though, but simply put to bed the myth of “job security.” Most of the people who used to primarily do the tasks that customers assume their neglect is creating more opportunity for have long ago lost their jobs, and those tasks have been relegated to others who don’t need the extra headache. And creating a junkyard on the parking lot (or leaving the store a mess) isn’t going to bring them back…

    Liked by 3 people

  3. We used to have to use a £1 coin to release a shopping trolley. Then to get the £1 back, it had to be returned properly, and slid into the one in front. That was a good system. Then most supermarkets stopped that, and now they are found all over the place. They turn up in rivers, ponds, and canals. On railway tracks, dumped in residential areas, and even on the side of motorways. Some people use them to wheel their shopping all the way home, then leave them outside someone else’s house. It is an epidemic! 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. When I was a Lowe’s worker, Beth, retrieving carts was an important role for sure. The managers never, ever wanted to see the lots too full and the lobby too empty of carts. Most customers seemed grateful for the task when I was out there rasslin’ with a big line of heavy carts, even bringing in the strays they saw to help me add them to the line I was pushing to the store. Now there’s society for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. In Manhattan, you can’t take carts out if the store…wheels lock, but even in places outside Manhattan with parking lots, they make it really difficult to bring the carts outside the perimeter of the store. FYI…I always return the cart…it’s a thing for me

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It annoys me to no end when people do that. Especially when they leave it smack-dab in the middle of a parking space. A few stores (very few) use the coin method but they didn’t fly in my hood – not for long.
    It’s like anything. A trash can is rightthere and yet, they don’t take the three steps to discard the flyer, choosing to take it out from under the wiper and chucking it on the ground. Sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I try to not give that side-glance when others don’t return their carts. I don’t know what’s going on with them. I enjoy returning my cart. It makes me feel like…I’m doing SOMETHING right! Also, my favorite cart story….I was going into a store with a cart from the parking lot. A man ahead of me was doing the same. I started to run, and passed him. He started laughing and said he would beat me. We raced. He graciously let me win. Good day. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I liked the good old days when there was a high school boy to roll out your cart, put the groceries in the trunk and gratefully accept the quarter you gave him for his help.
    The carts now are so very very big and heavy and hard to roll with a week’s worth of groceries in them. Of course in these days and times I only have a half week’s worth of groceries in my cart. I can’t afford the other half. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I have heard on several occasions that homeless people in larger cities have a running business of “delivering “homeless” shopping carts back to their starting point and thus scoring the coin in these – I think that is perfectly fine. But it describes the general values of our society on a less flattering way.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This has been one of my triggers for many, many years. I especially get triggered about those who qualify for handicapped parking and therefore feel entitled to leave their cart where they’ve parked. I ache to ask them sometimes how they managed to get to the store unassisted and yet can’t take the cart back and get back to their car unassisted. However, I bite my tongue and, when I see them anyone about to leave a cart, ask if I can return it where it belongs for them. I keep hoping that one of them will get my passive message…

    Liked by 2 people

    • it’s hard to know what’s going on in other people’s heads and lives, and I just try to make sure I do my part. tomorrow, I have another post about shopping carts from another perspective

      Like

  11. One of the grocery stores we go to is obsessed with getting them all back to the store…even with a generous surplus. The cart person at any given time, when they aren’t returning carts, is following you out to your car to get your cart back when you are done loading your car. I like the enthusiasm, but I don’t like to feel I have to speed-load the groceries! Of course, they’re out there for a reason…

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Not returning shopping cards is a phenomenon I only observed in the US. I never experienced it over here. Ok, for quite a while you need to put in a coin to unlock them from each other and you only get that coin back, when you connect again with the station. But even before, I never saw shopping cards just standing around in the parking lot.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’m sure there are some legitimate reasons, but I would bet that the main reason is laziness or self-centeredness. I think there is something to be said for positive peer pressure.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. When we lived in Finland, you paid a euro to “rent” a shopping cart. When you returned it, you got your euro back. And if you left it, there were always a couple of youngsters racing each other to take it back and collect your euro for themselves. It worked beautifully!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. In France and in Switzerland you only ‘get’ your chart if you put in a chip, in France it was a one € coin, in Switzerland one or two CHF depending on the trolley model…. I learned very quickly to ask for plastic chips in certain shops; when on the first trip to a home improvement store my trolley got stolen TWICE within 30 minutes because I had put real money in it. I couldn’t believe it but one learns quickly. Not it’s plastic chips one keeps in the wallet for any such case. But can you believe that ppl are emptying a trolley to get their hands on a one Euro coin?! Well, it is. I felt not even angry when I figured out what happened (after asking at the cashiers desk…) I just felt sorry that some ppl are so poor that they need to do that.
    I’m sure this would help greatly to clean up the parking lots quickly.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. sorry Beth, just see that plenty of others have harped about putting money in your trolley’s slot which is only returned to you when you put the chart back – didn’t read the comments before.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Always struggled with the ‘I don’t do X so that an employee can stay in a job’ excuse. The effect is so minimal in terms of hours worked that it’s unlikely to be the factor that decides the fate of an individual’s job.

    However, it does mean that a gainfully employed individual now has to head out the the parking area and collect a waylaid trolley (can’t help ‘trolley’, that’s what we call them in Scotland), when there are probably dozens of other jobs to be done in-store. All the (lazy) trolley-leaver is really doing is adding more stress to low paid workers. No need, and their ‘excuse’ comes across at best as lazy and at worst as condescending and classless.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. This was surprisingly very interesting lol I never knew a study on returning shopping carts could be so fascinating and what it says about people and the society we live in! lol… I am a shopping cart returner! Why? I think more because I know it’s the right thing to do and I wouldn’t want any to tragically wound my car so I hope that others would think along the same wavelength… On that same thought, I sometimes wonder if people don’t break the law because they know from right or wrong or because they simply don’t want the risk of being caught… if people knew there was NO risk of being caught, would they still break the law…… 🤔🤔

    Liked by 1 person

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