Whenever we go out grocery shopping today, we don’t really think about how convenient the shopping carts are. Before its inception, people would rely on wooden or wire baskets to carry their groceries to the checkout counter. But did you know, people were not too keen on using the shopping cart when it was first invented?
Sylvan Goldman, the inventor of the shopping cart, had to hire decoy shoppers to wheel around the carts in the store to demonstrate how they were used and how convenient they were since it did not catch on initially.
The Strange History of the Shopping Cart
The claim is that shopping carts were not a resounding success when they first came out, and this is absolutely true. In the middle of the Great Depression, Sylvan Goldman, a grocer from Oklahoma, acquired several Humpty Dumpty grocery stores. The chain was bankrupt, and Goldman tried to make them profitable once more. The decision to buy the stores didn’t really look like a wise decision since the economy was terrible at the time. People chose to purchase more affordable items with a smaller mark-up in order to save money and maximize the value of their dollar. So even if the grocery store seemed so busy, the small mark-up was not enough to cover the overhead expenses of running the business.
At that point, Goldman realized that his business was in trouble. He started to observe his shoppers and tried to look for clues on how to help them and how to restore the profitability of his store. One thing he noticed was how tasking it was for the people to carry baskets from the aisles to the checkout counter, especially when they were already heavy. In 1934, he instructed his employee, Fred Young, to affix an undercarriage made out of a folding chair with wheels. He thought that if weight were not an issue, would people buy more items? Will they shop longer?
Sadly, the answer to his questions was a resounding no. People are creatures of habit, and they would rather stick to what they know than dilly dally with an odd contraption. Goldman’s customers still chose to use the heavy baskets to carry their items to the counter. (Source: Snopes)
How Did Goldman Convince His Customers to Use the Shopping Cart?
Goldman was very determined to make the carts part of the everyday shopping experience. He hired decoy shoppers to wheel the new carts around the store. This showed his customers how this simple innovation could be used and how convenient they were. He also hired someone to greet his patrons at the front of the store to offer them a shopping cart to use.
Needless to say, the strategy was quite effective. People started to use the wheeled baskets, and they quickly became a lasting preference for them. (Source: Snopes)
Did the Invention of the Shopping Cart Make Sylvan Goldman Rich?
Goldman’s invention rolled its way into marketing history. Upon his passing in 1984, Goldman left an estate valued at $400 million, and most of it was thanks to the wheeled folding chair affixed to baskets. (Source: Snopes)