The History and Innovation of the Shopping Trolley

Female Shopper With Trolley at Supermarket

The shopping trolley is an essential part of the supermarket shopping experience and we decided to uncover the history of this important piece of equipment. We also look at the new developments in shopping trolley design and review the general importance of the shopping trolley to all large supermarkets and its customers.

The History of the Shopping Trolley

The world’s first shopping trolley (called ‘ shopping cart’ in America) was invented by Sylvan Goldman in 1937 for his own supermarket chain in Oklahoma USA. He could see his clients struggling to carry baskets so he decided to do something to help them. His design was a metal frame on wheels that could hold two wire baskets. Initially consumers were not convinced, men felt they were too lady like and wouldn’t use them, whilst women felt they were too much like pushing a baby pram. Sylvan employed models (male and female) to use the trolleys in the stores and to be photographed in order to persuade the clients to use them. It took some time but the results soon paid off and shoppers started to see the benefits of using the new carts. The stores in turn also saw increased sales from the use of the trolleys, so it was a ‘win win’ situation.

His design concept was redesigned in 1946 by Orla Watson who designed the first telescope style trolley that featured two large baskets with foldable back section that allows for trolleys to be stored together easily, this was called ‘nesting’ . Goldman soon applied for a similar ‘nesting’ patent for a design which featured one extra large wire basket, as opposed to holding two baskets.

Following a lawsuit between Goldman and Watson (where they had both applied for patents of ‘nesting’ carts), Watson won the case as he had submitted the first ‘nesting’ patent request.  Watson won the case and Goldman was ordered to pay $1 in damages. In the end the two agreed to work together on the combined final design of the large basket trolley that was patented in 1949 and went into mass production in the 1950’s, thus changing the way supermarkets functioned forever.

This has become the staple design of the supermarket trolley ever since, with just minor adjustments and improvements being added along the way. In 1954 another design adjustment added the fold down child seat which enabled mothers to do their shopping with more ease and less worry about their toddlers running around the aisles.

Following this adaption little changed in the basic design of the supermarket trolley.  Minor changes reflecting health and safety concerns have been added in recent years to the general design in recent years including include child safety belts, plastic corners to protect shoppers and better wheel designs to assist with steering.

In 2004 and 2007 research highlighted shopping trolleys are a source of bacterial infection and use became a major public health concern. Research showed large amounts of bacteria were found on shopping trolleys, now most supermarkets provide hand sanitizers and wipes near the entrances of most supermarkets.

Shopping Trolley Innovation

Shopping trolleys today are of robust design and are built to last. They can hold up to 150 kilograms in weight. Mostly they are made of Iron and welded for strength. Coated in a zinc finish to protect the trolley from rust and weathering.

New design shopping trolleys which are made partly from recycled plastic or plastic are starting to be introduced by some stores and have interchangeable plastic parts to improve repairs and maintenance. They have added new style handles to allow easier manoeuvrability and have improved the casters.

In the UK Sainsbury’s Supermarkets have introduced new trolleys designed particularly for parents with disabled children which include new wrap around padded seats with secure harness systems.  Safety and weight restriction information on a display panel for customers has also been added.

Other recent innovations include computerised on the trolley scanning systems being added allowing shoppers to scan the items they are buying as they go around the store, so that when they arrive to check out the final bill is already calculated and they can quickly pay and leave. It seems the future is still bright for the shopping trolley and further new innovations are likely to follow.


The Importance of the Shopping Trolley for Supermarkets and for Consumers

For all supermarkets the shopping trolley means convenience for the customer and increased sales for the stores. The shopping trolley allows the customer to buy one week’s worth of groceries in one visit for their families. It allows them to explore the supermarket and all its products comfortably. Overall the shopping trolleys save time for the consumer and enables them to purchase more.

The customer wants a trolley when they arrive in the store that is easy to manoeuvre and that glides along without much effort. If a trolley demands strong pushing the client is less likely to buy as much and may not even cover all of the supermarket sections. To ensure customer loyalty to the store it is essential that shopping trolleys are available and work well at all times. Supermarkets must be sure to treat their trolleys as they would a car, with the right care and maintenance a shopping trolley will provide months and months of use for the client but will also bring the money in to the supermarket.

Even with the growth of online supermarket shopping, clients will still want to visit the supermarket to select their own fresh produce, to browse new items and take advantage of in store promotions. So the demand for shopping trolleys will continue and new ways to improve the customers shopping experience through the use of the trolley will continue for many years to come.


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