Why Men Used to Be Scared of Shopping Carts

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Young man in supermarket
Photo: SuperStock/Getty Images

On Friday, Sociological Images reposted a really interesting piece from 2009 about a seemingly boring subject: the humble ol’ shopping cart. As it turns out, author Gwen Sharp writes, drawing on the book Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppel Shell, the introduction of the shopping cart marked a pretty big shift. Traditionally, when you went into a store, “there was a long counter and you had the clerk show you the wares,” as she puts it, but shop owners soon realized it would be cheaper to just put all the goods out on shelves for patrons to peruse themselves.

Store owners quickly realized the more stuff people could carry with them, the more they’d buy — in other words, baskets weren’t good enough. Hence, shopping carts. But people didn’t like them at first — Sharp quotes from a 1977 interview from the inventor of the shopping cart, the grocery-store-chain owner Sylvan Goldman:

I went into our largest store, there wasn’t a soul using a basket carrier, and we had an attractive girl by the entrance that had a basket carrier and two baskets in it, one on the top and one on the bottom, and asked them to please take this cart to do your shopping with. And the housewive’s, most of them decided, “No more carts for me. I have been pushing enough baby carriages. I don’t want to push anymore.” And the men would say, “You mean with my big strong arms I can’t carry a darn little basket like that?” And he wouldn’t touch it. It was a complete flop.

Faced with an army of tired women and men determined to show off their virility while buying diapers and cereal, Goldman “eventually had to hire attractive models to walk around the store pushing the carts to make shopping carts seem like an acceptable or even fashionable item to use,” writes Sharp. Clearly people have softened on the idea since then.