In retail today we take many things for granted and forget someone had to invent them. Machine-readable barcodes – the basis of stock control and EPOS – were the brainchild of Alan Haberman in the 1970’s but 40 years before then the late Sylvan Goldman, owner of ‘Humpty Dumpty’ grocery stores in Oklahoma invented the ‘greatest ever development in the history of merchandising’ – the shopping trolley.
Until the 1930’s grocery stores had always been ‘serve-over’
The USA has always been a consumer-driven society eager to embrace new ideas. Until the 1930’s grocery stores had always been ‘serve-over’ and the issuing of self-serve baskets to reduce staff costs was relatively new. Goldman had a lightbulb moment when he realised self-serve sales could be doubled with ‘Trolley-carriers’ to overcome the weight of a basket.
Shopping trolleys were a flop when introduced in 1937.
In a later TV interview Goldman recorded how Shoppers resisted the idea. Women said: ‘I’ve pushed enough baby carriages. I don’t want to push any more’ whilst Men said ‘Are you saying I’m a wimp? Do you think I can’t carry a pesky little basket?’ – or something like that. Shopping trolleys were a flop when he introduced them in 1937.
The design evolved from two loose baskets in a folding, wheeled frame
But he had the strength of his convictions. He spent a small fortune on newspaper and radio advertising to make them fashionable and hired attractive young girls to walk around pushing his new invention. Staff were trained to spot people struggling with baskets and to place them in his wheeled carrier frame – which also carried a second basket so they could carry on shopping. The design evolved from two loose baskets in a folding, wheeled frame into todays single large-capacity fixed basket in a stackable frame. And trolleys in the USA are BIG – about half as big again as those in the UK.
Goldman also experimented with less-successful techniques
Goldman also experimented with less-successful techniques.He tried to emulate Henry Ford and attached baskets to a track along which customers shuffled collecting produce as they went. But that was a stinker. When anyone stopped to read a product label everyone else stopped. Oh well, back to the drawing board….
Goldman tried to understand Shopper psychology, kept experimenting and wasn’t frightened of change
The point is that Goldman tried to understand Shopper psychology, kept experimenting and wasn’t frightened of change. He persisted and soon overcame Shoppers’ reluctance and patent his idea before dying as a very wealthy man indeed. The Yanks are good at innovation.
Todays big retailers are still looking for a lightbulb moment but I’m sorry to say few Markets match them
Todays big retailers are still looking for a lightbulb moment but I’m sorry to say few Markets match them. Take product lighting for instance. A whole industry has evolved around product lighting – different wavelengths and different focusses for different products: meat, fish, vegetables, fabrics and jewellery. And it works – well-designed lighting increases sales by about 25%. A Draper no longer needs to take a Customer outside to show them his sample – specialist lighting brings daylight into the stall. Nowadays product-specific lighting is cheaper than ever. The exposed fluorescent tubes of many Markets should be history.
Unintended ‘impulse purchases’ are driven by lighting and presentation
Research has confirmed a well-lit and laid-out shop convinces Shoppers to buy 50% more than they intended when they walked in. Unintended ‘impulse purchases’ are driven by lighting and presentation and Supermarkets ensure the most alluring sensations – flowers and produce – stand at the front in a ‘decompression’ zone to relax Shoppers as they arrive. The basics – dairy produce and bakery – are positioned at the back to draw shoppers past the shelves and many US stores employ friendly ‘greeters’ to open the door and say Hello. It may sound a bit naff to us Brits but one of the most successful Stallholders I know does the same. He simply stands out in front of his stall in a nice fresh uniform and says Hello to Dan and Doris. They love him.
ASB on private premises is a civil not a criminal offence
A friend recently introduced me to a Superstore manager relaxing in our local after a hard day at the checkout. He complained about the early-morning task of evicting rough sleepers from shopping trolley shelters in his carpark. In bad weather they are a cosy alternative to a draughty doorway with the added bonus of skip diving for food in his waste bins. I was sympathetic. Market Hall entrances seem to attract similar ASB (anti-social behaviour) despite deterrents such as ‘Mosquito’ ultrasonic transmitters (audible only to under-25’s) and ceiling-mounted sprinkler bars which discharge after closing hours. I’m told both are reasonably effective and a lot cheaper than a security guard. But as a Landlord don’t expect any help from PC 49. ASB on private premises is a civil not a criminal offence and when Landlords do take action they can expect complaints about infringing peoples human rights. Hmmmm…..
Shopping trolleys are more germ-laden than well-used public conveniences
My Superstore manager’s problem is staff morale – confrontations and clearing cardboard and other errrr…remains left behind in smelly corners. To cap it all his Company Health & Safety Manager now quoted research confirming shopping trolleys are more germ-laden than well-used public conveniences. Research commissioned by the ‘bag-for-life’ company Reusethisbag and a separate study by the University Hospital of Marburg, Germany (no less) suggests trolleys host several hundred times more E Coli and Salmonella than a well-used WC. Think about that the next time you see a child chewing on the trolley handle. Cash machines and self-service fridge doors have the same problem. And you don’t want to know about the grab handles in a London Underground carriage.
There are Companies which rock up with a highly-visible ‘trolleywash’ unit, sterilise the trolleys and sanitise the shelters at the same time
But of course someone in the USA quickly spotted the business opportunity. There are Companies which rock up with a highly-visible ‘trolleywash’ unit, sterilise the trolleys and sanitise the shelters at the same time. Customers love ‘em. It’s one less thing they’d never thought about and now it’s one less thing to worry about. My Supermarket friend suggested this to HQ but was told the cost would come out of his bonus. Instead he slips a few bob to his Carpark Carwash blokes and they do it for him instead. Good thinking.