Today in History – June 4, 1937 – First shopping cart invented by Sylvan Nathan Goldman. Goldman was a retailer who wanted his shoppers to be able to carry more goods to the cash register and increase sales. The standard wicker basket limited the number of purchases a shopper could conveniently carry. In particular, women could not both carry heavy loads and keep track of children. As the story goes, one evening working late he thought of putting together two ordinary folder chairs on wheels as a vehicle that could be pushed around the store.
After many failed prototypes, a wheeled cart called the “folding basket carrier” was ready to be tested. Goldman launched a creative advertising campaign (see center image) that showed the problems with the old-fashioned basket and promoted “the newest innovation in shopping! Now at your Standard Food Stores.” The ad then described the joys of â€œw[e]nding your way through a spacious food market without having to carry a cumbersome shopping basket on your arm. . . . Just pick up your items from the shelves. They will be checked and placed in your car without having to carry a single item.”
Alas shoppers were not interested in this latest innovation and only the elderly used the new carts. One woman said: “No more carts for me. I have been pushing enough baby carriages. I don’t want to push anymore”. And the men would say, â€œYou 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.“
Goldman turned things around by hiring fake shoppers, men and women, of different ages to start using the carts. The idea was to show that the carts were of value to the young and strong. It worked! Today there are over 1 million shopping carts manufactured every year using the same basic design.
IDEO’s Nightline challenge on ABC changed forever our vision of what the shopping cart could be. For the television show, IDEO was given one week to create a new innovative concept in shopping carts. After doing user studies, creative brainstorming and several prototypes, IDEO’s concept cart (shown above) considered “maneuverability, shopping behavior, child safety, and maintenance cost. The nestable steel frame lacks sides and a bottom to deter theft, and holds removable plastic baskets to increase shopper flexibility, help protect goods and provide a method to promote brand awareness. A dual child seat uses a swing-up tray for a play surface, and a hole provides a secure spot for a cup of coffee or a bunch of carnations.
Alas the IDEO cart seems to have suffered the same adoption problems as the original. The closest cart I have seen was at IKEA in Emeryville, California where a cart with hanging bags was adopted.
For more information design education, see the Engineering Pathway’s resources on engineering design, human-centered design and industrial design. Or visit the Mechanical Engineering Education and the Engineering Management community sites. The Engineering Pathway also hosts Engineering Education communities in all ABET-accredited disciplines.
Also on this date in 1989 was the Massacre in Tiananmen Square. The Chinese government was not able to control the students fighting for democracy and ordered the infantry and tanks to attack the unarmed protestors. It is estimated that 7,000 died in the massacre. The courage of the Chinese students forever changed China.