The shopping cart that boosts sales 33%
People spent 33% more when using wheelbarrow-style ring handle shopping carts (vs traditional horizontal handle carts).
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Since its invention in 1936, inspired by a folding chair, little has changed in the design of shopping carts.
So scientists set to work to see how tweaking the design could impact what people buy.
What they found is surprisingly powerful. And it couldn’t be more simple.
Change the position of cart handles, and nothing else.
P.S.: Thank you Mathias Streicher, one of the co-authors of this research, for supporting Ariyh and sharing several example images of the new shopping cart that you invented.
Use parallel ring handles on your shopping carts to boost sales
Channels: Retail store | Customer experience
Research date: November 2021
Use wheelbarrow-style ring handles on your shopping carts, instead of the traditional horizontal bar.
They activate people’s biceps, making them more likely to grab items and put them in their carts, increasing your sales.
People using shopping carts with parallel ring handles put more products, and more variety, in their carts compared to shoppers using traditional carts.
As part of three experiments comparing ring handle and traditional shopping carts, researchers:
Observed 2,359 shoppers at a European supermarket. Those with ring handle carts bought 26% more items and spent 33% more. They also bought 28% more variety of products.
A simulated shopping experiment found similar results. People using ring handle carts spent 33% more and bought 29% more products.
The effect worked for most items, but did not hold for staples (e.g. pasta, milk).
The parallel ring handle shopping cart that the scientists developed.
🧠 Why it works
We use our biceps to bring food and objects towards our body, to eat or to secure them, resulting in positive emotions.
We use our triceps to push or remove objects away from us, resulting in a negative connotation.
Traditional shopping carts activate our triceps, because of how our hands and arms are positioned. Carts with parallel ring handles activate our biceps.
Because of the positive connotations we have when using our biceps, when using them while shopping we are more likely to grab and pull objects towards us - placing them in our cart.
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Shoppers rated the parallel ring handle cart to be less comfortable than traditional carts. While this could also be due to resistance to innovation, they might be less ergonomically comfortable.
While the new handle design increased sales when it was used, the research didn’t look at potential longer-term impacts on customer satisfaction or retention. For example, returns could increase, or shopping frequency decrease.
It’s unclear how the new handle design would affect mobility-impaired shoppers, including elderly people.
Shoppers who use a shopping list are probably less susceptible to this effect, as they are less likely to make impulse purchases.
Holding a smartphone while shopping may have a similar effect on people’s biceps, especially when it is held close to the face (e.g. for a phone call).
🏢 Companies using this
In interviews, cart manufacturers and grocery retailer executives said they had never seen such carts on the market, and were surprised about their impact on sales.
Some retailers have introduced vertical handle shopping carts, which are supposedly more comfortable, but these carts also activate people’s triceps, not biceps.
⚡ Steps to implement
Change the handles of your shopping carts from one horizontal bar to two parallel handles, in the form of oval rings on each side of the cart.
Shopping baskets may have a similar effect - compared to traditional shopping carts. Previous research found that when people shopped with baskets they were more likely to buy vice products (e.g. chocolate, liquor).
🔍 Study type
Lab experiments and field experiment (with 2,359 shoppers in a typical European supermarket over the course of three weekdays).
Getting a Handle on Sales: Shopping Carts Affect Purchasing by Activating Arm Muscles. Journal of Marketing (November 2021)
Zachary Estes. Bayes Business School, City University of London.
Mathias Streicher. University of Innsbruck.
Remember: This is a scientific discovery. In the future it will probably be better understood and could even be proven wrong (that’s how science works). It may also not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.
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