Friday, February 18, 2011

The Grocery Cart Problem...Solved!

My dream job would be to work as a Professional Creative Idea Thinker Upper.  It really wouldn't even matter who I worked for as long as they had a constant need for creative ideas and were willing to pay me however much I determine my priceless ideas to be worth.  I don't necessarily want to be the one to carry out those ideas, but maybe just over see them to make sure they're are executed according to my vision.

One industry that is in desperate need of my services is the grocery store industry or their grocery cart management systems, to be more precise.  I bought groceries today and was once again mildly irritated at how inconvenient it is to deal with my cart.  Locating one to shop with usually isn't a problem but getting rid of it when I'm done is another story.  Okay, it's not exactly a problem but it can be inconvenient and I'm all about my own convenience.

As I was cramming all of my purchases into the back of my car this afternoon, I mentally revisited my solution for the grocery cart problems that I have spent an unhealthy amount of time thinking about.  The problems I'm referring to are the inconveniently located cart return stations, or lack there of, as well as the abandoned cart issue despite the location of the aforementioned cart stations.

I really do try to put my grocery cart into the nearest cart return station when I'm done with it, but sometimes there are extenuating circumstances that prevent this...or at least make it inconvenient enough for me to not even try.

The most common of those circumstances is weather.  If it's raining I do sometimes abandon my cart, although I try to do it politely like the picture on the right.  It's not ideal, but at least by parking it on the curb you have lessened the chances of damage due to a rogue cart.

On occasion I have been known to just plain ditch the cart between the cars but I usually only do this if there are no cart return stations, the stations are full or inconveniently located, the weather is really bad, or I'm having an attack of IBS that's causing some serious prairie doggin' and I gotta get home NOW.

Even though I don't place my cart in its designated return location 100% of the time, I do make an effort and I hope that I would never be as inconsiderate as the people in these next pictures.

I would never leave a cart where it blocked a parking space because when I'm the one looking for a place to park and I see carts taking up good spaces, I become temporarily homicidal.

Okay, seriously?  Was the plastic cup in the way?  Was it taking up so much space that the cart just wouldn't fit?  Did the shopper think that was the Cup Return Station because it wasn't clearly marked? 

My solution for these catastrophic shopping cart problems is really quite simple and I'm surprised no one has thought of it before.  Or, as with most of my ideas, someone probably already has and I'm not aware of it.  Just call me The Day Late And Dollar Short Girl.

Envision this: A grocery store parking lot where every parking space has its own cart return area.  Actually it would be one Cart Return Station for every 2 spaces since the station would be between 2 opposite facing spaces.  So the cars would still be parked next to each other, but instead of nose to nose, that area between them would be for the Cart Return Station.

I know.  It's freaking brilliant.  But it gets even better.

My yet-to-be-patented cart return system would work similar to a bowling ball return thingie. 

After you've unloaded your groceries you would place your cart on a special platform that detects the cart's presence and lowers it underground to the completely mechanized cart holding area.  This sophisticated area made up of a complex system of computerized sensors and conveyors would keep 2 carts at the ready for each Cart Return Station at all times.  When the next person pulls into your space, they would push a button and their cart would immediately be lifted up from underground and placed on the platform, ready to use.

What happens if someone abandons their cart, despite my ultra convenient system?  Those carts would still have to be fetched manually but they can be returned to any Cart Return Station.  This can be done by store employees, we don't want to completely eliminate the bag boys, or it can even be done by a considerate shopper who just wants to help make the grocery shopping experience as pleasant as possible for everyone.

For variety, I would offer a higher end model of my system to some of the larger, more competitive grocery stores in metropolitan areas.  This model would include a custom designed Dyson dryer, similar to their hand dryers.  In the case of bad weather, this feature could be activated so that when each each cart was returned it would pass through this custom dryer before being redirected to the next station in need of a cart.

You heard me right.  Everyone gets a clean, dry grocery cart.

This higher end model would also include covered walkways which would definitely increase the store's sales on inclement weather days.  In some markets, primarily in the Northwest, there would be an option to contract with Starbuck's to have a completely computerized coffee station at every Cart Return Station.  This feature would come with an app you could download that has a modified GPS system that lets your cell phone interface with the coffee station nearest to your car.  That way you could use your phone to select and purchase the type of coffee you want. You would send your order to the coffee station and by the time you get out of your car, your hot coffee would be waiting there for you.

The only drawback to my uber cool and sophisticated Cart Return System is that it would be slightly expensive upfront.  The underground area would have state of the art computerized mechanisms that are virtually maintenance free, but you would have to consider the cost of putting it underground, then the operating costs such as electricity and...uumm...oil or something.  Not to mention the fact that someone sort of has to completely design, build and program it but those are minor details.  Besides, it would more than pay for itself in the long run in the convenience it would offer shoppers like me. 

And that's what counts. 


shamayn said...

Very high tech. I think it would be cheaper to hire highschool kids to stand at the ready with an umbrella and coffee to politely take our carts into the store and bring out clean ones as needed.

Shannon Green said...

Because high school kids are so reliable and willing to serve. Well there are exceptions but for the most part I'd rather deal with robots.

Since this is my fantasy I will just make it so that my underground computerized machines also produce some kind of environmentally safe energy source that will power the entire store, which will actually save the store owners money. Because of that, their groceries will be the cheapest in town so that everybody wins.

SkylersDad said...

I was parking at a Target one day with Skyler. As I started to lower the ramp on the van, some idiot who was done with his cart pushed it into the lined off area where the ramp drops. Fortunately, it didn't cause a problem because the ramp missed it. However I grabbed the cart and rolled it back over into his car in a fit of rage. We almost came to blows.

Shannon Green said...

Chris, that there is justifiable homicide.

Dr Zibbs said...

The whole cart thing pisses me off. I always give people a dirty look when they don't return.

Oh and they see me looking alright. Yeah they do.

And are you on Twitter? I'm @drzibbs on Twitter. Why don't you get on there and friend me. Just sayin'

Austin Wright said...

I feel like this idea would take up too much real estate; grocery carts are designed to be stored inside one another. In this way, 2 stored grocery carts only take the space of about 1.2 grocery carts. Grocery stores are not concerned with making it more convenient for you to get rid of grocery carts. When I was younger, I worked at a Kroger for about a year, and I can tell you from experience that at least 90% of the grocery carts in the parking lot are inside one of the stations. Even though there will always be some strays here and there, the massive majority of the outside carts and contained. And a simple roof above each cart station would solve the weather problem much easier than a hand dryer. Hell, what grocery stores should really do is implement larger, roofed cart stations outside and store 100% of the grocery carts outside. Take a cart from outside (You would have no choice, and since eggs and milk have an inelastic demand, I doubt any complaining of inconvenience will stop you from shopping. And I doubt it would actually be inconvenient since most people pass by a cart station on the way inside a grocery store anyway.); use it inside the store; take the cart with your groceries outside to your car; and leave your cart in a large, roofed cart station with all the rest of them. Then, the customer loses practically no time or energy, and grocery stores don't have to waste approximately 8-10 labor hours a day to pay a 15 year old to gather grocery carts. :)

Shannon Green said...

@Austin Wright, obviously this was not a serious idea but more of a rant. However, in the years since writing this I have discovered a store that has an almost perfect solution. Have you ever shopped at Aldi? Not my favorite place to shop but they have pretty much solved the grocery cart problem. The carts are under the awning next to the entrance and they are locked together. In order to set one free so you can use it, you have put a quarter in a slot on the cart's handle. Then it separates from the rest of the carts, you do your shopping, put your bags in your car, then you take your cart back to where the carts live at the front of the store. When you shove into the row of carts, it locks itself to them and releases your quarter.

Genius, I tell you. Okay you still get a wet cart when it rains but I've never seen a single abandoned grocery cart in any Aldi store's parking lot.

Dave Rogers said...

Shannon - Yes, I agree that customers are woefully irresponsible when it comes to making their grocery cart available for the next user. Your idea shows imagination, but would be difficult and expensive to implement.
Here's an alternative approach that seems to work well. I was impressed with how shopping carts are handled in Normandy, France, on a visit a couple of years ago. Carts are arranged outside the store under a carport type roofed structure. Each cart is locked to a rail. To retrieve a cart, you insert one Euro (~$1.75). After shopping, if you return the cart and lock it to the rail, then you get your Euro back. The other option is to just leave the empty cart in the parking lot and drive away. That costs you one Euro. The next shopper can return your cart to the rail and earn that Euro. btw, we saw no loose carts there.