Shopping carts alternative (mis)use

(Un)intended Usage of the analogue shopping cart

Regarding the global pandemic and various government regulations, the shopping cart has undergone an interesting development. Rather than just functioning as a container to assemble items in, it is now used in many supermarkets in Germany to keep distance towards other people in the store. It somewhat functions as a protective layer, an extension of the human body to keep distance from potentially infectious people. This has gone as far as people using shopping carts outside stores to play football while maintaining social distance.

While this usage of the carts may seem rather ridiculous, it symbolizes very well how the use of shopping carts has been altered through the spread of the pandemic. As Donna Haraway has stated that we are cyborgs, using the shopping cart as part of the body is another example of how humans and technology are entangled. 

Of course, shopping carts have already been used in different ways than their traditional use in the supermarket. Some people use them to move stuff from one place to another, as shopping carts are free (or 1€) to take away and a good alternative to transport things without having access to a car. Thus, they have also been used for general mobility, moving around town as can be seen in the documentary “Carts of Darkness.”

Shopping Cart races seem to be or have been a very popular activity in general, some people even motorizing them. Here is one example, but I would encourage you to check out the videos on Youtube! 

The shopping cart and intent

While we in the analogue world may play around with the cart itself, the digital world offers a different experience of shopping. Firstly, things organized on a long and explicit list, rather than piled on top of eachother. Mediating and changing the basket content is a different experience. In many ways, it is not assumed that the customer changes their minds in the supermarket. If they do, they will have to retrack their steps in a physical space that is not intended for multidirectional movement; the store has a path of experience that is heavily planne; it starts at the entrance usually with vegetables, and ends at the register and the sweets. Having to go back and put an item back disturbs the ‘natural’ order and flow. Customers may leave an unwanted product at the register, but this demands a confrontation with staff. Often customers leave goods in random places in the store if their decide not to purchase them. While this is the path of least resistance for the customer, this costs supermarkets tremendous amounts of money every year, as frozen and cool goods may not be put back if the temperature has not been monitored and they don’t know how long goods have been left for. In online shopping it is however a complete different experience; while stores of course intend for people to use the basket to support purchase, baskets are often abandoned. Online shipping baskets can be used simply to negotiate desire, dream or to play; shopping as a leisure-activity requires no purchase, and the basket is used as a prop to organize the play, in this sense. 

Statistics and online checkout

As noticed, there are significant differences among the ways the physical shopping carts and the online ones are used, and misused. The habit of putting items into online shopping carts without finalizing the purchase is the typical behavior of the online customer. As a matter of fact, according to statistics, almost 70% of the time, the items are just abandoned in the shopping cart without converting the selection of an item in an actual purchase. This can be due to many reasons: the customer might need more time to decide, might not be truly willing to buy the good, might not be satisfied with the price or with the conditions of the delivery, might not have enough funds on his/her credit card, might be willing to search for alternatives on competitors’ platforms and so on. Of course, the companies want the conversion rate (i.e. the percentage of visitors of a website that complete a desired goal, called conversion, out of the total number of visitors) to be as high as possible. A high conversion rate is indicative of successful marketing and web design. Companies try to implement several strategies to lower the abandonment rate. The most common ones are about optimisation of the check-out process, ease of purchase, reduction of the time spent on the purchase and many others. One interesting example of strategies aimed to increase the conversion rate is the Amazon’s One Click button that allows the customer to completely skip the shopping cart step.