Final day: Reflections on the shopping cart as a technology the mediates and organizes society, and how it affects and is affected by covid-19

We chose the shopping cart as a technology that affects how we organize and mediate. We chose it because we wanted to genuinely examine an everyday technology that has been used in new and different ways during COVID-19.

Already before deciding, it was apparent to us that each of our experiences in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Denmark were very distinct from each other; this from an epidemiological, legislative, and emotional stance.

The experience of how to procure sustenance was however relevant to all of us, and we, therefore, decided to highlight this phenomenon.

 We have applied both ethnographic fieldwork, academic literature review, discourse analysis, and incorporated different artistic negotiations.

 We decided to examine it as a two-fold symbol of consumption, examining both the analog shopping cart and the digital shopping cart.

Both are central vehicles that support and organize shopping and allow customers to gather intended and unintended items. While the analog shopping cart, as we know it, was patented in the 1930s, we understand the optimal digital shopping experience as the one-click experience patented by Amazon, where the shopping cart is completely removed and the purchase is directly done to eliminate a process of consideration of the purchase.

In the context of Covid-19 the analog shopping cart and experience surrounding it has also been linked to microbiological danger, while the online shopping cart has been repositioned as a pure and ‘safe’ option to continue engaging with consumption practices.

Different shopping experiences

Today, I am not in Davos, but St. Gallen, where I study. I am in the supermarket, coop. I would like to talk to you about the shopping experience here in Switzerland and the lessons my colleagues observed in their respective countries.

First of all, I shop with a mask and gloves. This mask is a special one that brings in fresh air into my mask the same time. I live opposite the supermarket, so usually, I would shop daily my things and use only a basket.

Nowadays, I use a cart in order to hoard for a week. Like in all countries, I unluck the cart with a coin. Here at coop they give you even their own key chain for it. I have here the self-scanning device and a loyalty card. I first unlock the scanner with the loyalty card, finally can start choosing the items and eventually pay my self.

We have this system for nearly ten years, and my research has shown that Germany slowly started last year. I guess it is trust culture the supermarkets have. The lady told me that if they do not control sometimes, the thefts or wrong scannings goes up by 30%. In Germany, we observed much stronger, that people are using the cart as a safe harbour trying to find the distance.

In Italy, shopping carts are a must-have, but they also use small ones because of the narrow shops.

In Venice, there are very few shopping carts. The majority of people use their own shopping carts from home, which we have in this picture.

Else in Italy, they also have baskets and sometimes with wheels, which is also common in Denmark. In Denmark, Suzan hasn’t experienced any special innovation in the past 30 years she has been alive.

Surveillance & Regulations

The shopping cart might be intended as the boat we navigate on in the ocean of products available to us. The companies are very aware of it and therefore are using different tools to track the consumers, profile them, to send extremely targeted advertisements that are aimed not only to fulfil consumers’ needs but also to create new ones, the customers might even be not conscious of.

This is true both for online companies and physical ones whom both profile their customers through loyalty programs and data analysis. This might generate a feeling of frustration and of being violated for the customers. Therefore, in order to be able to protect our fundamental rights of freedom, preserve our right of choice without being unconsciously pushed into certain buying behavior, and to prevent misuse of our personal data, fraud, and other illegal or unethical behavior.

The European Parliament made a huge step towards the freedom of the customers with the GDPR. This regulation aims to protect and secure data of the consumers within the EU. What we want to highlight however is that the GDPR gives us the option not to reveal our data, but it is up to us to take actions into protecting our privacy. This is the fundamental difference between regulation that is a rule made by a formal authority, and the resistance, that comes by taking active actions and requires a dose of animosity.

Resistance and “mis”-use

Another thing we found regarding misuse and resistance during this week is that the analog shopping cart has been and is being used as an extension of the body

Not just to assemble and transport groceries but also as a means of transport outside of the supermarket for furniture or other heavy things. During the ongoing pandemic it is also used a lot as a protective layer for shoppers to maintain social distance. -even used to play football in Germany “safely.”

Also shopping carts have been and are being used by some people for mobility or racing with them as a leisure or extreme sport activity as they are easily accessible. 

The main form of resistance we have found out about, is shopping cart abandonment – online and offline. Over 70% of online shopping carts are discarded without buying anything. It appears that online shopping and filling the basket can be a form of dreaming or playing or as we called it “digital window shopping.” 

 In general, what became very apparent to us this week is how these different technologies shape our behaviour of consumption. And this behaviour is increasingly being monitored to manufacture and steer consumption behaviour.

So, even if there is a 1-Click button or a scanning shopping cart, think twice about your consumption choice and if you want to use a certain technology. 

 If you think that this is not influencing you, ask yourself why you move slowly when pushing a shopping cart. Because when you go faster, it makes a lot of noise!