Sunday, August 03, 2014

Shopping Carts with Square Wheels

1. The Problem

Ever notice the high percentage of shopping carts having one or more wheels with flat spots? Ever found it annoying? 

How often do you grab a cart, hear and feel the familiar "clunk, clunk, clunk," leave it there and grab another? Or if you DO decide to go ahead and put up with the noise, once you start loading canned goods and other items in the steel basket, the banging of your cart will seem amplified across the aisles until half the store can hear you. Of course, you can also hear others from half the store away. Does this bother anyone else? Or is it just me? 

I think it bothers most of us because I sure hear others complaining about “square wheels.” It just makes the trip to the store a negative experience—something I don’t think corporate management folks would like... if they even knew about the problem... which I doubt.

2. The Cause

Next time your cart starts galumping across the smooth linoleum floor, look closely at the problem wheel (or wheels). It will ALWAYS be one of the back wheels, never the front. 

Ever wonder how the flat spot gets there? When the wheels are rolling they don’t get flat spots. But I’ve never pushed a cart that didn’t have both back wheels turning pretty freely. At least they weren’t dragging along the floor like a car with a locked brake. And even if they did drag a bit, the floors in most retail stores are smooth and polished. I became convinced that it wasn’t customers who were creating the flat spots, so who could it be? And why is it always the rear wheels?

Then I watched an employee gathering carts in the parking lot and bringing them back to the store entrance. He’d get about 20-30 carts in a train-like “stack” jammed together, and push from the rear of the stack. No problem...until he had to turn the stack. Then he would shove the back end of the stack sideways to get lined up in the direction he wanted to go, and then start pushing forward again. That sideways shove is when the rear wheels of several carts near the tail-end of the stack get scrubbed across the rough asphalt parking lot, causing the flat spots!

Why not the front wheels? Well, because they’re on casters to allow them to roll in whatever direction the cart is moving. Thus they never slide sideways across any surface, and always stay nice and round.

3. My Solution

a) I thought of several improvements or solutions to the cart retrieval process, but rejected each because it would cost money. One example: Tell employees to bring in no more the 4-5 carts at a time so there’s no need to push the back end a long stack sideways. (Nope—inefficient and would require assigning more employees to cart-retrieval duties. Labor is expensive.)

b) Without going through all the others and their various negatives, here’s the winner:

Use the customers! Make them feel good about helping, and reward them at no net cost to the store.  I call it the "Cart Angel Program."

Customers walk from the parking lot right past carts that are either loose (and in the way) or in the cart collection areas. Promote the program with signs like this at the store entrances:

Dislike carts with flat spots on their wheels? So do we! Help us prevent them.

BE A CART ANGEL! (Cartoon picture of a halo over a person pushing a cart.)

1. Grab ONE CART (ONLY) from the parking lot on your way in.

2. Bring ONE CART (ONLY) to the Archangel station at the door.

3. Receive your Angel Award (and our thanks) from the Archangel.

4. Shop with a cart with round wheels!

Fine print: You may bring more than one cart, but only one at a time please (to save the round wheels!)

Limit of one Angel Award per person, per day.


At each entrance, or at a single designated entrance, station an employee (who would otherwise be out gathering and retrieving carts) wearing a halo-hat or sparkling vest identifying him/her as a Cart Archangel. 

Assign the Archangel to either:

(a) Give to each customer who brings in a cart an “Angel Award” coupon good for X% off on certain (marked) items in the store (that would otherwise be marked down for quick sale), or

(b) Let each Angel (customer) register for a free drawing of an item of some value. Daily, weekly, and monthly drawings are all possible. 

Use some of the money now being spent replacing cart wheels to pay (at cost!) for the items given out.

BONUS: Archangels’ jobs could readily be filled by hiring people with mobility challenging (or other) disabilities, and this “Hiring the Disabled” effort promoted in ads and articles.

Bottom line: It takes almost no appreciable effort to grab a cart on the way from the parking lot to the store’s entrance. I do it now even without any “reward,” just to help prevent flat cart wheels. I think customers would do it for a chance to win free merchandise. It saves the store money, makes the shopping experience more pleasant without clunking cart wheels, and offers good PR for the store.

If you agree, share this to pass it on. Also email a copy to the General Manager of stores where you shop and sometimes get a clunking cart.

Comment with alternate ideas or enhancements.


kenju said...

I almost always do that anyway, since I want to place my purse and shopping bags in the cart as soon as possible. A pet peeve of mine is people who leave carts all over the lot , willy-nilly.

Duke_of_Earle said...

Yes, I have nearly gotten myself into trouble in our Walmart parking lot by glaring at people who just shove their empty cart into a nearby parking slot -- when a cart return enclosure is just a few feet away! Once I walked over, took the cart while its user was still there, put in the retrieval corral, said loudly, "It's not that hard!" and stalked to my car. No, he wasn't disabled that I could tell... At least not physically. But if looks could kill I would probably be crippled now.

Steve said...

In Germany you have to insert a Euro into a slot on the cart to get the cart free from the one in front of it. When you return it to the area where the carts are kept, you slip the attaching chain into the cart in front and get your Euro back. Works great, but I wonder how many folks would pass on getting their quarters back (if that is the coin used)

Duke_of_Earle said...

Steve, That solution did occur to me. At many airports, luggage carts are stored in a metal frame that allows one to be released with the insertion of a coin or coins. And if/when a cart is inserted into the same or a different rack, a smaller amount of money in coin is dispensed to the returner. I fear that people are too accustomed to getting their carts free at grocery stores and other retailers, and would balk and complain about having to "pay" for them. That could turn a happy customer into an angry one -- not something the stores would want. Oh, the psychology!