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Pushing Forward


Shopping carts have come a long way since the jokes about square wheels.

It seems fitting somehow that what we now call shopping carts were the invention of Sylvan Goldman, owner of the archetypical Piggly Wiggly supermarket chain.

That was in 1937, when Goldman put a basket on the seat of a wooden folding chair and wheels on the legs, calling the result a "folding basket carrier." The next year, Arthur Kosted developed an assembly line for the new wheeled device, and in 1940 was granted a patent titled "Folding Basket Carriage for Self-Service Stores."

Today, at any given time, there are up to 25 million shopping carts being pushed through American stores, according to Terry Swanson, president of Omaha, Neb.-based Americana Cos. Inc., which makes wire and plastic carts for food retailers. The yearly market for these indispensable wheeled sales aids is about $2 million a year.

And while the basic shopping cart design hasn't changed drastically since Goldman's game-changing concept, there have been innovations. "The most significant recent stride in shopping cart technology has been external cart accessories such as coin-deposit systems, safety and containment systems, and advertising handles," says Alex Poulos, sales director at R.W. Rogers Co. Inc. in St. Charles, Ill., which represents Commerce, Calif.-based Precision Wire Products, maker of more than 50 shopping cart models.

Poulos cites coin-deposit systems like Systec's Smartloc, which effectively manages carts while reducing labor costs and limiting the number of abandoned carts. St. Charles, Ill.-based Systec also manufactures advertisement handles such as the ClipOn XT, which can easily be installed on most carts and features ergonomic advances.

Systec also has recently developed a Smartsafe retractable child restraint or seat belt, and child shopping cart safety pioneer Safe-Strap Co. Inc., based in Wharton, N.J., has introduced the Safe-Dock car seat docking station that attaches to a shopping cart, and the Transport, a smaller-footprint, two-tiered shopping cart with a forward-facing stroller seat. Coming soon from Safe-Strap is Fall-Stop, an adjustable leg-hole closing device that allows parents to slide the Fall-Stop down over the child's legs, preventing him or her from falling out.

Poulos says two-tier carts are growing in popularity and "offer a more comfortable experience for shoppers." Precision Wire's 132C, the company's most popular cart, has two tiers, he notes, as well as a lighter weight and a sharper turn radius.

In the future, Poulos asserts, shopping carts may have what he calls a "virtual supermarket assistant" to help shoppers find products.

John Unnerstall, EVP of St. Charles, Mo.-based National Cart Co., says the ability to bring an old cart to "like new" condition through recoating has enabled grocers to double the useful life of carts for about half the cost of a replacement, while also supporting sustainability issues. He points out National Cart's focus is "to work with grocers to continually rebalance their fleets through our inventory control and recoat process."

Unnerstall is convinced that improvements in cart security through coin locks and locking wheels will continue to evolve. "These devices not only help prevent theft," he says, "but also give grocers a better ROI in labor reduction."

Americana's Swanson points to his firm's new antimicrobial shopping cart that protects shoppers from bacteria. "The protection will last the lifetime of the shopping cart and is actually printed on the cart for customers to see," he says. "For stores with these carts, it shows management cares about extra cleanliness and safety for their customers."

Meanwhile, Americana is currently working on a new product that Swanson says will take the place of the shopping cart seat belt.

"The most significant recent stride in shopping cart technology has been external cart accessories."

—Alex Poulos, R.W. Rogers

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