The Enduring Legacy of the Shopping Cart
The shopping cart has become a staple of the c-store industry recently, but it’s been around almost 90 years. Here’s how it all started.
Shopping carts. Have you ever given them any thought? Really given them any thought? They’re so overlooked that If you were putting together an “items taken for granted” list, they’d probably be overlooked for that, too!
It’s not entirely fair. While a shopping cart may not be the most exciting invention known to humankind, over time it has proven to be an essential driver of retail grocery growth. And as an increasing number of convenience stores expand physically and offer more on the shelves, the shopping cart has become more essential to the industry than ever.
It’s come a long way since 1936, when the first cart was invented by Sylvan Goldman, a grocery store owner in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. On his travels to California, he had observed several examples of the new at the time “supermarket” concept. This model added square footage far beyond that of the typical corner grocery, and brought under one roof items that were usually found in different stores, like produce, dairy, and meat. Most significantly, customers were expected to serve themselves, an approach opposite from the contemporary convention of the time—shop keeping staff doting over customers as they curated, collected, and bagged merchandise for them.
Sensing the wave of the future and understanding the needs of his own growing Humpty Dumpty grocery interests, Goldman grasped that—no matter how big the store—shoppers would be forever limited to buying the amount they could lug around the store in their arms and hand baskets. If he could provide a way for shoppers to carry more items, they would be free to buy more stuff and, in the process, increase store profit potential.
So Goldman introduced the first shopping cart in his Humpty Dumpty store. It was a simple design, consisting of a metal frame with two wire baskets attached to the front and back. The baskets could hold up to 80 pounds of groceries.
Goldman was pretty excited about his invention, but it was not an immediate success. In fact, shoppers were initially hesitant to use the carts; using them was seen as a sign of weakness or laziness. Goldman had to hire models to push carts around the store—making them look fashionable and trendy—in order to convince shoppers to use them.
Over time, however, the practicality of the shopping cart became impossible for other stores to resist, although issues with the original design remained. For example, the wheels were made of metal and tended to damage floors.
In 1946, Kansas City’s Orla Watson, owner of a machine shop and contract manufacturing business, invented the first plastic shopping cart. This design was lighter and more maneuverable than the original metal carts, making them easier to use in stores. That plastic carts also had rubber wheels, which made them less damaging to floors and more favorable in the eyes of operators.
The shopping cart underwent another major redesign in the 1950’s. St. Paul, Minnesota’s Walter Deubener, owner operator of the local S. S. Kresge drug store and inventor of the tie shopping bag, introduced the first nesting shopping cart. This design allowed multiple carts to be stacked together, saving space in stores and making it easier for employees to restock items. It’s an image we’ve seen hundreds of times:
Today, shopping carts come in a variety of designs and sizes. Some modern carts are equipped with child seats, cup holders, and even touchscreens for accessing product information. However, the basic design of the shopping cart has remained largely unchanged since its inception in the 1930s, a fine example of how a solid design can endure through decades of retail grocery transformation.
The value of basic essentials is no secret to SSCS. Though the software we develop is ever evolving and dynamic, the success of our business relies on core competencies that never go out of style, like the personal approach to support, training, and sales that forms the foundation of our success. Give us a call at (800) 972-7727 and we’ll be glad to share how we’ve stood the test of time, like our old friend the shopping cart.