• Bill Leinweber

  • About Bill Leinweber

    Bill Leinweber's mission is to help businesses and organizations grow by combining efficient processes with great customer and employee experience.

    Bill is the Chief Experience Officer & Owner of Landmark Experience LLC, a consultancy, where he loves to help business leaders walk in their customers' shoes and devise memorable and meaningful experiences for both customers, guests, visitors, employees and business partners. After all, have you ever heard of customer loyalty and business growth without GREAT customer experience?

    Bill's 30 year career spans retail and office products distribution operations in both small, family-owned and global mega-businesses. He has managed customer service operations, sales support, customer on-boarding and business intelligence teams while also serving as an internal consultant and subject matter expert. Bill has helped his past employers improve their customer engagement processes and achieve their goals of customer experience excellence and loyalty.

    Bill loves to talk and speak about customer experience as well, so don't be afraid to ask!

    Bill Leinweber
    Landmark Experience

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The Shopping Cart – The Design is Largely Unchanged but the Experience Keeps Getting Reinvented

Goldman's Basic Design

Just about every retail experience involves a shopping cart.  I don’t mean the “Click here to add to cart.” I mean the brick and mortar basket on wheels. The shopping cart is over 70 years old and hasn’t changed all that much.  However, retail chains still struggle to innovate an efficient method used to get the cart into the consumers hands.  First a little background.

Folding Chair to Shopping Cart

The shopping cart as we know it today is largely attributed to Sylvan Goldman and Orla Watson.  Goldman was a grocery pioneer (Humpty Dumpty chain in Oklahoma) and Watson was a machinist and inventor.  In 1936, Goldman wondered how he could get shoppers to buy more groceries.  A folding wooden chair gave him an idea.  He placed a couple of baskets and wheels on the chair and – voila’, the shopping cart is invented!  The drawback of Goldman’s original patented design was that the carts had to be disassembled to be folded and stored.  Watson came up with the telescoping shopping cart design in 1946, which allowed the carts to nest into one another and required no disassembly for storage.  Goldman and Watson squabbled a bit over their respective patents until Goldman stopped

Orla Watson Cart

contesting Watson’s patent in exchange for licensing rights.

“Carts Are Provided For Our Shoppers Convenience”

Convenience?  Let’s be honest.  Shopping carts are provided with the hopes that you will fill them to the brim before making your way to the checkout!  As an aficionado of ingenious process efficiency, I’m intrigued by the ongoing innovations retailers devise for putting the shopping cart at your fingertips as you begin your shopping experience.  The superstore is about 50 years old and the shopping cart 73, and yet shopping cart logistics continue to evolve.  Think for a moment.  The last time you used a shopping cart, was it an awkward wrestling match to get one or a smooth and easy exercise?  Truth is, if the process was efficient, you probably didn’t pay much attention to it.

Who’s Doing it Well?

Shopping cart logistics can be tricky and expensive.  As a consumer, you want the cart right there where you need one.  You wheel the cart through the store and checkout and usually out to your car.  The store then has to pay employees to fetch the carts and bring them back into the store.  One exception is Aldi where you have to pay 25c to get a cart.  When you’re finished shopping at Aldi and return your cart to the queue, you get your quarter back.  The ideal scenario has the carts in a queue, with the consumer pulling carts off one end of the queue while the retrieved carts are fed into the other end of the queue.  Newer Lowe’s and Walmart stores have mastered this design with the cart queues turned parallel with the front of the store.  As you walk into the front doors, you pull a cart off the leading edge of the queue.  Employees return carts to the queue through special ‘mini’ doors on the sides of the entrance and away from shopper traffic.

Our newest Target uses a slightly different design.  The cart queue doors are in the center of the bank of front doors so you’re walking alongside the carts as you enter the store.  Carts are fed into the doors at the entrance and the shopper pulls their cart off the other end of the queue after they enter.  This is clearly the most convenient for the shopper except that both shoppers and carts are co-mingling outside the main entrance.

Not surprising IKEA has shopping carts down to a science.  After all, they’re experts at getting that bookcase or chair to fit into a box the size of an overnight bag.  The traditional carts are at the ready as you descend the stairs into the IKEA Marketplace.  These are traditional European style carts with all four swivel wheels and can be a challenge for Americans who aren’t used to them.  IKEA also has flatbed carts in the warehouse for furniture and larger items.  These carts are fed into a mechanical queuing system from the loading area at the front of the store.  As shoppers enter the warehouse inside the store, they pull carts off the end of the queue and the mechanism advances the queue so the next cart is ready.

Classic Process Inefficiency

The retailer that surprises me the most is Meijer.  Meijer is largely credited with pioneering the super store concept in the early 1960’s so you would think shopping cart logistics would be part of the mastery of their business.  Not so.  The Meijer nearest me is an older store but I can’t believe all the money and effort they spend on an extremely inefficient model.  The majority of carts are lined up outside the front of the store.  A small sign instructs shoppers, “Meijer guests, Please select a cart before entering the store. Thank you”  Really?  Not the best customer experience in inclement weather.  The carts that are inside are all pushed into a “corral.”  Shoppers have to enter the corral, grab a cart, then walk backwards pulling the cart out of the corral and backing-up into the next shopper trying to get their cart.  It’s even worse for the employees who fetch carts from the parking lot.  They bring the carts in via the same entrance doors the shoppers use, then have to make a sharp left and then a sharp right to get the carts into the corral.  I can’t believe Meijer hasn’t spent a couple thousand dollars at this store to redesign their cart logistics rather than subject their customers to and pay employees for such an inefficient experience.  Most Kroger stores I’ve been too are only slightly better.

So What’s Taking So Long?

So after 50 years of super stores and 70+ years of shopping carts, why are retailers still reinventing their shopping cart process?  You would think by now most retailers would have the whole shopping cart logistics thing figured out.  And why do so many stores have a such a shopping cart mess?  I’m guessing many retailers have only recently recognized that a shopping cart is part of the TOTAL customer experience and they are finally evaluating the experience (and efficiency) from beginning to end – cart to car and back.  In addition, a lot of upper management just isn’t accustomed to seeing things through the customers’ eyes.

So here’s a lesson for your business – Want to save money?  Take a look at repetitive processes that occur over and over and over each day.  One small improvement in efficiency, when multiplied by the number of times the process is executed, can save you big bucks over time.

2 Responses

  1. Another fine post Bill. Heinen’s supermarkets in Cleveland take customer service to a higher level than most. They require that shopping carts stay in the store and all groceries are loaded into your vehicle free of charge by one of their employees. Not only is this beneficial for the store (not having to deal with the clutter of carts in the parking lot and sending an employee out to retrieve them, not to mention the condition of the carts is always excellent since they are not subjected to the elements), but it is also a nice personal touch. Customers simply receive a small placard with a number that corresponds to their cart number. Simply return to your car upon exiting the store, hang this placard in your drivers side window and pull up to “parcel pickup”. Groceries are then loaded into your car. Granted, the store has to pay an employee to provide this service, but the way I see it, this is money well spent. In this case, what is the customers last experience leaving the store?? Having groceries loaded into their car by a friendly employee….not struggling with a cart in the dead of winter in slush and snow and then trying to find the nearest “cart corral”!

    • Hi David,

      Thanks for reminding me about Heinen’s unique shopping cart model in Cleveland. Their model of keeping the carts indoors at all times and loading the customer’s groceries into their vehicle is an exquisite example of my guiding principles – What is best for the Customer? and What is best for the Company? The customer simply pulls their vehicle up to the queue, pops the trunk/hatch and the well-mannered (as I remember them) employees graciously load the groceries. What a boon for customers in Cleveland’s winter weather! I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Heinen’s spends LESS on carts and cart management given this model not to mention the repeated great experience they give their customers. Thanks again!

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