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Why I Wrote an Article About Shopping Carts

The idea came from a sliver of news about a New Jersey bill. It grew into a feature about art, human behavior and how common objects can rule our lives.

shopping cart theory essay

By Christine Hauser

Times Insider explains who we are and what we do, and delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how our journalism comes together.

It was a sentence I never expected to compose.

“I am a reporter at The New York Times, and I am writing about shopping carts.”

On May 25, that was the opening line of an email I sent to a sociology professor, asking him for an interview about why he thought some people do not take the trouble to return shopping carts after using them.

At first glance, it sounds like a frivolous issue to be considering while many are struggling with more pressing challenges, such as unemployment, the pandemic or trying to put food on the table. But I thought I detected an interesting topic and volunteered to dig in.

I write for The Times’s Express desk , which is a team of editors and reporters whose primary job is to jump on breaking news, like shootings and extreme weather. But when news isn’t popping, we look around for trending and offbeat stories that we can develop.

Shopping carts fit into that lane. On April 28, one of my editors, Will Lamb, noticed an item written by Politico about a New Jersey legislator who was proposing a bill to fine people who did not return carts to corrals.

It was intriguing, but not enough to hang an entire story on. So my assignment became what is the classic Express team endeavor: to broaden a sliver of trending news, and hopefully discover and explore something unexpected.

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Mom faces backlash for explaining why she doesn’t return her shopping cart at the grocery store

A mom caused a TikTok scandal by saying she doesn’t always return her shopping cart at the grocery store in a viral video.

“I’m not returning my shopping cart and you can judge me all you want,” Dr. Leslie Dobson, a clinical and forensic psychologist in California, said in a TikTok video with 11 million views. “I’m not getting my groceries into my car, getting my children into the car and then leaving them in the car to go return the cart. So, if you’re going to give me a dirty look, f--- off.”

Many complained that Dobson was being inconsiderate to grocery store employees; others agreed with her.

  • “My sister has 5 kids and still puts her cart in the corral.”
  • “Small things like this is what shows character in a person. I am not a parent but even if it’s raining or snowing, I return my cart.”
  • “I have the worst trouble with this ... the return things are ROWS away. I’m not leaving my baby in the car where I can’t see it.”
  • “How did your kids get to the shopping cart safely? Did you leave them in the car alone and go get the cart? Or were they portable enough to make it without a cart?”
  • “Collecting carts is one of the few human jobs left so I leave mine in the parking lot.”
  • “It was never about the shopping cart. It’s about the principle. It’s about answering the question: Am I willing to take some time out of my day to do something nice for nothing in return?”
  • “I agree with you 100%.”
  • “Single mom here!! So what I do is put the groceries in the car. Leave the children in the shopping cart. Take the shopping cart back with the children. Return them back to the car.”
  • “I park next to the cart return thingy.”
  • “I lock my kid in the car for all of the 20 seconds it takes me to put the cart back and walk to the car. It’s literally a few seconds of them alone in the car. Safely and locked.”
  • “If you can get the cart, you can return the cart.”

Many people mentioned “the shopping cart theory,” an unofficial theory that people who don’t return their trolleys have poor character.

Dobson tells TODAY.com that she posted the video “because predators watch our patterns and routines and I wanted to give people permission to not return their carts if their intuition tells them they aren’t safe.”

In fact, stranger abduction is very, very rare. According to an analysis of FBI data by Reuters, thousands of minors are reported missing each year and only .1% of those cases are the result of stranger abduction. FBI data shows that children are far more likely to be abducted or molested by a family member or someone known to the parents.

Dobson adds that leaving the kids alone in the car, even momentarily, is not something she will ever do.

She says the tone of her video was intentionally provocative “to grab attention” for awareness.

“I don’t love talking to pedophiles but if I can share how they think and how they target people, then I will take one for the team because I have the eduction and capacity to do so,” she says.

Dobson tells TODAY.com that people should assess the outside lighting, the design of the parking lot and the presence of security cameras or store guards. And, she says, moms should always trust their gut.

Janette Fennell, the president and founder of Kids and Car Safety tells TODAY.com that tragedies involving children in parking lots include car accidents and abduction. According to the organization, in 2022 , more than 250 children were inside cars alone when they were stolen.

“Although the victims of these types of incidents typically survive, it is incredibly traumatizing for everyone involved,” states the Kids and Cars Safety website . “Incidents like this are very easily avoidable by never leaving a child alone in a vehicle.”

Fennell advises that parents park as close as possible to the cart collection area to minimize inconvenience.

Dobson says “the shopping cart theory” is “ridiculous” because it reduces a person’s character to one simple act. She says, “I always return my shopping cart when my kids aren’t with me.”

Is it immoral to not return a shopping cart?

“There is a big class of literature on whether or not people decide to cooperate when no one is looking,” Kurt Gray, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, tells TODAY.com.

“The reason this topic is so contentious is because it’s kind of ambiguous — there’s room for interpretation,” he says. “My work argues that morality and ethics come down to perceptions of harm. Is someone causing or preventing harm by these acts?”

Dobson points out the potential danger of returning her cart, however, some prioritize the harm in not doing so, says Gray.

He refers to “The dilemma of the commons,” the idea that common resources may be destroyed if exploited by the public.

There might be minimal harm if one person doesn’t return their cart, says Gray, but if no one returns their cart, the consequences are bigger.

Elise Solé is a writer and editor who lives in Los Angeles and covers parenting for TODAY Parents. She was previously a news editor at Yahoo and has also worked at Marie Claire and Women's Health. Her bylines have appeared in Shondaland, SheKnows, Happify and more.

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April 26, 2017

Why Don't People Return Their Shopping Carts?

Pulling up to a parking spot and finding a shopping cart there can be pretty frustrating. Why do people ignore the receptacle?

By Krystal D'Costa

shopping cart theory essay

Daniel Blume  Flickr   (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This article was published in Scientific American’s former blog network and reflects the views of the author, not necessarily those of Scientific American

While some supermarkets are better than others, it's probably not unusual to find a few stray shopping carts littering the parking lot to the dismay of shoppers who may think that a parking spot is open, only to find that it's actually being used by a shopping cart. It seems like a basic courtesy to others: you get a cart at the supermarket, you use it to get your groceries and bring them to your vehicle, and then you return it for others to use. And yet, it's not uncommon for many people to ignore the cart receptacle entirely and leave their carts next to their cars or parked haphazardly on medians. During peak hours, it can mean bedlam. Where does this disregard come from?

Some supermarkets have tried to make this relatively easy: they have cart receptacles throughout the parking lot, a cart attendant to bring the carts back to the store, and some may even rely on a cart "rental" system where you pay for the cart and are reimbursed when it's returned. In the instances where there is no rental system, people may leave their carts stranded for some of the following reasons:

The receptacle is too far from where they've parked their car.

They have a child whom they do not want to leave unattended.

The weather is bad. 

They have a disability that prohibitive to easy movement.

The perception that it's someone else's job to collect the carts.

They're leaving the carts for someone else to easily pick up and use.

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Similarly, there are five categories of cart users:

Returners. These people always return their carts to the receptacle regardless of how far away they've parked or what the weather is like. They feel a sense of obligation and/or feel badly for the people responsible for collecting the carts.

Never Returners. People who never return their carts. They believe it's someone else's job to get the carts or the supermarket's responsibility, and show little regard for where the carts are left.

Convenience Returners. People who will return their carts if they parked close to the receptacle, or if they see a cart attendant.

Pressure Returners. People who will return their carts only if the cart attendant is present or if the adjacent car's owner is present, which means they don't have an easy avenue for abandoning their carts.

Child-Driven Returners. These are people with children who view it as a game to return carts, often riding them back to the receptacle or pushing them into the stacked lines.

Social norms fall into two general categories. There are injunctive norms, which drive our responses based on our perception of how others will interpret our actions. This means that we're inclined to act in certain ways if we think people will think well or think poorly of us. And there are descriptive norms, where our responses are driven by contextual clues. This means we're apt to mimic behaviors of others—so what we see or hear or smell suggests the appropriate/accepted response or behavior that we should display.

Supermarkets can try and guide our behavior with receptacles or cart attendants, but they’re competing with our own self-serving goals, which in this case may be staying dry, keeping an eye on our children, or simply getting home as quickly as possible, and we’re being guided by the ways others behave on top of that. These goals can override the norm because the support provided by the supermarket—ironically—resets the situation before complete chaos is unleashed with carts running rampant in the parking lot. An attendant will most likely step in before that happens. So if we apply this definition of norms to our classification of cart returners, the injunctive norm applies the greatest pressure to Returners and Pressure Returners. These folks are concerned by what others will think of them on some level, and want to adhere to social rule mandating that the carts are returned. Descriptive norms are at play for Convenience Returners and Pressure Returners who are more inclined to act if there is precedent. These folks are more likely to return a cart if there are no carts parked haphazardly. The Never Returners and the Child-Driven Returners are two example of goal-driven actors, which means that they’re responding to a more individual need. These two are interesting as they’re on opposing ends of the spectrum but still demonstrate the ways an individual goal can work for or against a norm.

A 2008 study published in Science  tested behavioral responses against the manipulation of injunctive and descriptive norms to see if a violation of one norm would lead people to violations of other, unrelated norms. In the first test, researchers targeted participants who parked their bicycles in two alleys. On the walls of the alleys were signs that indicated graffiti was not permitted. One alley had no graffiti, while the other did, despite the signs. Researchers attached a flyer to the handles of bicycles in both alleys so that the owners needed to physically remove the flyers. In the alley with graffiti on the wall, 69% threw the flyer on the ground or hung the flyer on another bicycle compared with 33% in the alley with no graffiti. The researchers reported that the anti-graffiti signs were readily visible and all entrants to the alleys glanced at the signs. The appearance of graffiti on the walls in defiance of the signs suggested that it was appropriate to break another norm: littering.

They replicated these results in two additional tests. For example, they set up temporary fences along two parking lots and posted No Trespassing signs and No Bicycle signs. While the temporary fences did have a gap that a person could use to get to their vehicle, the No Trespassing signs were intended to make people walk to another entrance. The No Bicycles sign were intended to signify that people could not lock their bicycles to the fences. At one parking lot, bicycles were left nearby; they were not chained or locked to the fence. At the other parking lot, bicycles were chained to the fence. The results were significant: 82% of participants used the gap if the bicycles were chained to the fence compared with 27% when there were no bicycles chained to the fence. 

In the final test, researchers went to a parking garage that served a supermarket and a gym. In one scenario, four carts were strewn about the garage, and in another all carts were in the receptacles. The researchers left flyers on the windows of the cars in the garage and—you guessed it—58% of participants littered (i.e., threw their flyers on the ground) when there were unmanaged shopping carts compared with 30% when all carts were in the receptacle.

While there are always outliers—people who behave contrary to the norm for the sake of doing so—these scenarios are fairly illustrative of the ebb and flow of the social order. There are norms that are intended to provide overall governance for the benefit of society at large but as individuals we have goals that intersect with these norms and can create conflicts. Yes, we want to generally behave like others of our choosing because we want to be accepted, but we also have goals that serve ourselves or provide us with immediate satisfaction. The data above suggests that as a situation broaches on deviance, more people will trend toward disorder; once we have permission to pursue an alternative action, we will do so if it suits us. Not returning our shopping carts opens the door to throwing our circulars on the ground to parking haphazardly or in reserved spaces to other items that impact the quality of our experience at that establishment.

The world will likely not end because we aren’t returning our shopping carts—that would be an amazing butterfly effect—but it’s an example of a quality of life issue we can control. That guy who didn’t return his cart may not be a complete jerk. He may just be using the example set by others so he can get home a little more quickly. But if everyone does that, then we’re shifting the balance of what is acceptable, which may have greater ramifications to the social order. We have a greater influence over seemingly mundane situations than we realize.

Do you return your cart? Comments have been disabled on Anthropology in Practice, but you can always join the community on Facebook .

You may also want to view the Follow-Up: Reasons People Don't Return Their Shopping Cart


Keizer, Kees, Siegwart Lindenberg, and Linda Steg. "The Spreading of Disorder.” Science (33) 12 Dec. 2008: 1681-685. doi: 10.1126/science.1161405

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Do you return your shopping cart? A psychologist’s answer on TikTok enraged thousands

Shoppers outside a Vons.

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Of all the decisions faced during a trip to the grocery store — paper, plastic or reusable bags? self-checkout or human interaction? — one has emerged as the most contentious.

Where do you leave your cart at the end of the shopping trip? It’s become a cart conundrum of sorts.

Leslie Dobson, a Los Angeles-based clinical and forensic psychologist, shared her answer in a video posted on TikTok and Instagram last week that’s generated more than 11 million views as of Monday and a whole litany of backlash.

“I’m not returning my shopping cart and you can judge me all you want. I’m not getting my groceries into the car, getting my children into the car and then leaving them in the car to go return the cart. So if you’re going to give me a dirty look, f— off,” Dobson said using an expletive.

The internet went off.

People accused her of being an “entitled mom” and called her “lazy.” Others called her a “Karen” and some questioned why she doesn’t take her kids with her to return the cart or lock the car with them inside while she puts the cart away.

“Oof this is embarrassing for you,” a mother of two wrote on Instagram. “It’s said that returning the cart is a litmus test of sorts, and girlie, you failed...”

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But Dobson said the video didn’t tell the whole story. She explained in an interview with The Times that she doesn’t believe women should be shamed into returning their shopping carts if they don’t feel the parking lot is safe for them or their children.

Dobson, who has children ages 3 and 7, said she knew the video would be provocative, but she didn’t expect the wave of anger and judgment from people online. She’s even received death threats, she said.

She hoped the initial post — and a follow-up video the next day — would get people talking about women prioritizing their own safety. She said her goal was to impart that women should not feel forced into an unsafe situation for themselves or their children to return a shopping cart.

“If you feel unsafe, the important thing is to trust your intuition and protect yourself and your loved ones versus a societal norm or a judgment that may come your way,” she told The Times.

But people were downright apoplectic about the idea of Dobson leaving her cart unrestrained.

Several commenters on her video made reference to the “shopping cart theory,” which proposes that a person’s moral character and ability to self-govern can be determined by whether they return their shopping cart to its designated area or abandon it somewhere else in the parking lot.

Some online jumped to her defense, saying that by returning the buggies or leaving them in a designated corral they’re taking jobs away from those tasked with bringing the carts back into the store.

The public response to the first video was so intense that Dobson followed up with another post on Friday to give some additional context about why she made the video.

“I want to give you some statistics,” she said in the video. “Last year, 265 children were abducted in parking lots in America. Half of those were sexually assaulted. As a single mom returning your shopping cart you are prime for a predator to watch and grab you.”

The nonprofit Kids and Car Safety reported that in the United States in 2022 at least 265 children were abducted during car thefts — the highest number in the 10 years of data collection provided on its website. In such circumstances, the person often doesn’t realize a child is inside the vehicle when they drive off, according to the nonprofit.

Amber alert activated by the California Highway Patrol on behalf of the Long Beach Police Dept. for 4-yr. old Justin Chan, who was abducted from Long Beach, California, on Feb. 13, 2024. The suspect as driving a 2021 gray Honda Accord with California licence plate number 8XPG349.

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The statistics provided by the nonprofit don’t specify whether any children were sexually assaulted in such situations. The nonprofit Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network reported that in 2016, Child Protective Services agencies found evidence that more than 57,000 children were victims of sexual abuse. But the majority of sexual abuse reported to law enforcement was committed by an acquaintance of the child or a family member, according to the nonprofit.

“It may not be hundreds of thousands of trafficked women or stolen cars, but I don’t care,” Dobson told The Times. “For me, if it’s even one that we could have prevented why not? Over a shopping cart?”

Shopping cart shaming has been an online pastime for years.

The Instagram account “Cart Narcs” devotes itself to confronting people on video in parking lots across the country to call them out for failing to return their carts. Those who decline to trek their carts back to the corral run the risk of having a Cart Narc leave a magnet on their vehicle that reads “I don’t return my shopping cart like a jerk.”

Aside from times when she feels unsafe, does Dobson return her shopping cart?

“Always,” she said with a laugh. “And I help others return their carts.”

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shopping cart theory essay

Hannah Fry covers breaking news for the Los Angeles Times. She most recently covered Orange County for The Times and has written extensively about criminal trials, housing, politics and government. In 2020, Fry was part of the team that was a Pulitzer finalist for its coverage of a boat fire that killed 34 people off the coast of Santa Barbara. Fry came to The Times from the Daily Pilot, where she covered coastal cities, education and crime. An Orange County native, Fry started her career as an intern at the Orange County Register.

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The Shopping Cart Theory Explained

What is the shopping cart theory what does returning your shopping cart say about you.

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Are You A Good Person? This Theory Might Reveal The Truth

Are You A Good Person? This Theory Might Reveal The Truth

What's your next move after loading the car with groceries.

Philosophers have been debating about human nature since the dawn of history. Some have argued that people are inherently good, others say we’re basically selfish. 

Still others say whether you’re a good person comes down to your choices.

Enter the shopping cart theory, the everyday ultimate litmus test of morality.

Breaking Down the Shopping Cart Theory

The shopping cart theory presents the idea that a person’s moral character can be determined by whether they willingly return their shopping cart after unloading their groceries. 

The civilian who brings the cart back to its proper resting place is a selfless person, the theory goes, whereas the person who chooses to abandon the cart in the parking lot is not. 

Origin of the shopping cart theory

While Socrates once sat in the agora, or marketplace, of Athens, challenging the views of politicians and aristocrats, it may come as no surprise that the modern forum for philosophical debate is none other than the Twittersphere. 

It’s there that the shopping cart theory first emerged. 

The shopping cart theory apparently made its debut circa May 2020 when a Twitter user referred to it as “apex example of whether a person will do what is right without being forced to do it."

He argued that this test alone is the ultimate way to determine the quality of someone’s values or moral character .

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The author of the Twitter post goes on to say, “A person who is unable to do this is no better than an animal, an absolute savage who can only be made to do what is right by threatening them with a law and the force that stands behind it."

While this is a pretty strong statement, the reasoning is that there are no real obstacles preventing someone from returning a shopping cart, yet there are no laws enforcing it. At the same time, returning the cart offers no reward, so the only real motive for doing it is to abide by a subtle social contract.

“No one will punish you for not returning the shopping cart, no one will fine you, or kill you for not returning the shopping cart, you gain nothing by returning the shopping cart,” says the Twitter post. “You must return the shopping cart out of the goodness of your own heart. You must return the shopping cart because it is the right thing to do. Because it is correct."

Because there’s no reward or ulterior motive to avoid punishment, the theory goes, this test shows whether someone will do what is right just because , thus providing the perfect backdrop for examining moral character.

Twitter’s response to the shopping car theory

“The Shopping Cart is what determines whether a person is a good or bad member of society,” the Twitter post concludes. 

Much of Twitter seems to agree.

For instance, user @bekahbooooo_ says “​​Idk I just feel like as someone who once worked a retail job, I might not be required to put it back but the guy working would really appreciate it so I might as well make someone else’s day easier?? Idk it’s more about respect for the worker and not the unspoken societal law.”

In a reply to the above, user @nyahoarder says, “I mean yeah that’s the idea. having that level of respect and consideration for a stranger is what makes you a ‘good member of society.’”

Still, there were a few scattered posts on the other side of the argument.

One user, @thedxman, felt especially strongly about it:

“It's a shitty theory, ignoring disabled people and others who may not be able to return a trolley, putting them in a "extreme emergency" vs "not even human" comparison. It's shitty analysis on every level,” the user says. “Yeah, return your shopping cart. Also appreciate reasons ppl don't.”

What is self-governance?

According to the shopping cart theory, whether or not you return your cart after your shopping trip determines whether you’re capable of self-governance .

But what exactly does that mean?

Self-governance is the ability of an individual or group to regulate themselves without the management of an outside force or authority. 

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In the case of the shopping cart theory, self-governing refers to personal conduct that demonstrates self-control, self-discipline, and respect for the collective.

Shopping cart theory test

Want to test out the shopping car theory for yourself? All you have to do is pay attention the next time you’re at the store. 

Do you have the impulse to leave the cart behind, but put it away anyway? To some, this indicates you’re a decent human being.

There are plenty of other scenarios you can apply this logic to aside from the shopping cart test. Simply observe what you do in those moments when no one is watching and you have the choice to act or not to act in a selfless way without consequence. 

In this situation, do you choose kindness —or not?

Real Life Shopping Cart Theory Examples

Several users shared reasons that they choose to leave their shopping carts at times, or at least possible reasons why we should be understanding of those who do. 

“A good reason not to return it is if you are alone, with young children, and you are too far from the return to leave your kids alone in the car,” says user @UrbanPat . 

User @Ryan_Secord argues that “leaving carts for employees to gather is job security, and therefore a good deed.”

“Only times I haven’t done this has been in situations at night when I felt unsafe in the parking lot,” says user @MellisaJPeltier . “Rare times, but as a survivor of violent crime, it’s a choice I believe is right for me. Otherwise, I’m a very good citizen, apparently.”

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User @runawaywithme points out that the shopping cart test doesn’t work in countries that require payment to use carts:

“This is so flawed, because in the netherlands (and other countries as well for sure) you actually have to put a coin in the cart to be able to take it with you, so if you want that coin back, you need to put the cart back where it belongs. seems to work for most people.”

Limitations to the Shopping Cart Theory

As these users point out, the shopping cart theory has some serious limitations as to how much it reveals someone's moral character.

It’s location-specific

First of all, it can only apply to shoppers in countries or locations where shopping carts aren’t regulated by pay-to-use systems, and returning it to a designated spot isn't compulsory. 

It’s ableist

As several users pointed out, it may also be ableist. Ableism is discrimination in favor of able-bodied people.

For instance, a shopping cart user who walks with a cane, cast, or other mobility device may find it to be a hardship to return a shopping cart. 

Concluding that they’re “no better than an animal” or “an absolute savage” because of that isn’t quite fair.

It doesn’t consider extenuating factors

The same may be true of the parent with small children secured safely in the car with the cart return too far away to be considered safe, or other dire emergencies that get in the way.

Too black and white

Another major flaw in the theory, some say, is that it’s too black and white. 

What of the person who returns their cart most of the time, but on a particularly rough day decides to leave it behind? What if a person spent most of their life abandoning the cart but has recently decided to change their ways?

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One thing that can be said of human nature is that we crave certainty, and this is especially true when we try to define right and wrong. Having rules and answers for life’s tough questions gives us a sense of comfort and stability, even when those questions can’t really be answered.

In the end, defining good and bad isn’t as easy as one simple test that can be applied as a blanket-theory to all of humanity. Nor are people so simple that we can sort them neatly into those categories. 

The vast majority of us have nuanced personalities with a whole slew of qualities, idiosyncrasies, and outright quirks that play a major role in how we interact with the world. 

In the midst of all that, I’ve yet to meet a single person who’s never done something others might deem as “bad.” 

Perhaps as we muse about human nature, the very first thing to realize is that we’re neither good nor bad—but we all contain the potential for both. 

That said, while human nature may be a little bit of everything, there’s still no doubt that choice plays a major role.

Based on the Shopping Cart Theory… Are You a Bad Person? 

In the end, the shopping cart theory may not be the definitive test for whether or not you’re a bad person.

Still, it presents some interesting things to consider. 

What do you do when no one is looking? When you know a good deed doesn’t benefit you directly, do you still choose to do it?

And now that you’ve come across the shopping cart theory, might those answers be different? 

Whatever your answers might have been now or in the past, you still have the choice to define what they’ll be in the future. 

Therein lies your answer.

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Noisy Neighbors Send Cute Note In Reply to Woman's Complaint

When it comes to neighbors you never know what you're going to get. Sometimes you hit the neighbor lottery and get someone who barely makes a sound.

Other times, however, you get stuck with THAT neighbor: the one who blasts death metal at 3 AM or has a dog that WON'T.STOP.BARKING. Or, in this case, has kids who think practicing piano before the sun rises is a good idea (it's not).

When London-based content creator Martina Panchetti's neighbors decided that the road to becoming famous concert pianists involved early morning practices she'd had just about all she could take. Wanting to avoid an uncomfortable confrontation, she wrote them a polite note to complain.

She wasn't prepared for their response.

The Neighbors "Sweet" Response

@maartinapanchetti On our way to cook some Italian sweets for them 🥹 #london #neighbours #livinginlondon

In a TikTok video that has gone viral with over 10 million views, Martina shares that she and her flatmates sent a letter to their neighbors asking them to keep it down in the mornings.

"We sent a letter to our neighbours politely asking to make less noise and possibly avoid playing piano too early in the morning," Martina wrote in the text overlay, noting she lives next to a family with kids. "This is how they replied..."

She then gave her viewers a sneak peek of the card she received in response.

Inside an envelope sealed with a smiley face was a card that read:

"Dear neighbours, Thank you for your kind message. We realise that sometimes we can be noisy and naughty."

Obviously written by the pint-sized offenders themselves, the kids explained that they had started learning piano "and our teachers tell us to practice every day." However, they recognized that they should have been more considerate about "considering the times of the day and the weekends" and "sincerely" apologized.

The kids also admitted Martina isn't the only one who is less than thrilled with their early morning concertos. So is their mom.

"To be honest, mommy has been telling us not to play in the mornings and she also wants to get some sleep on the weekends. We promise YOU and we promise our mommy to try to be more considerate."

To "sweeten" their apology, the kids also sent along a couple of their national treats — Azerbaijani Pakhlava, a pastry layered with nuts and syrup, and Shekerbura, a sweet pastry filled with ground nuts and sugar. (Because nothing says "I'm sorry" like delicious desserts).

"We're in tears," Martina ended the clip, mock crying and covering her face.

More than 727,000 have loved the post with nearly 2,000 commenters weighing in.

"It’s actually mental how much your mindset changes when your neighbours become people to us and not just noise! I have this with my stompy yet lovely upstairs fella 😅," wrote one.

Another joked, “Right then, you now owe them your life.”

"This would make me wanna put together a sorry basket for them 😂😂😂," said a third.

Follow-Up TikTok

@maartinapanchetti Replying to @Kelsey part 2 of the neighbours affair 😂

Not everyone appreciated Martina's handling of the situation, however. Some commenters took issue with her for complaining in the first place.

"Whats new 😳 a karen complaining about some noise 😏," wrote one commenter.

It prompted Martina to post a follow-up TikTok .

She began the clip, saying: "For all the people saying that I am the bad neighbor for complaining about kids making noise, our letter was very polite, very friendly, we weren't complaining about noise in general — it was specifically towards piano playing, early in the morning, at weekends."

She explained that she chose to write a note rather than confront them in person because she felt it was the best way to handle an "awkward situation." She didn't want the family to feel "ambushed" and wanted to give them a chance to respond in their own time.

She also explained that she and her friends actually enjoy hearing their neighbors practicing piano...just not at the crack of dawn. "It's relaxing," she said.

And, it turns out, their neighbors aren't the only ones who know their way around a good pastry.

Martina and her flatmates returned the treats with some treats of their own, gifting the neighbors with a box of Zeppola di San Giuseppe - an Italian sweet traditionally made for Father's Day.

Additionally, they decorated the box with cute drawings and wrote another note.

"Thank you for your lovely note and for sharing with us your traditional sweets. We all loved them, super tasty!" they wrote, adding, "P.S. Keep up the practising, we can hear the progress."

But it didn't end there...

One Note Turns Into An "Endless Exchange"

Martina Panchetti and her roommates receive sushi from their neighbors.


Later that evening while Martina was out for dinner with her boyfriend, she received a message from her roommates on a group chat.

"The neighbors just sent us some sushi," she said, sharing a photo and laughing.

Instead of getting angry with the neighbors for being too noisy, Martina and her flatmates decided to go the kindness route, sharing their concerns politely and respectfully.

It's obviously paid off. Tag, you're it, Martina!

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11-Year-Old Raises $7K To Pay Off Entire School's Lunch Debt

"There's no such thing as a free lunch!" Unless you happen to be a student at Thomas Ultican Elementary School in Blue Springs, Missouri.

And then...Bon Appétit!

Because an 11-year-old student at the school just single-handedly raised $7,300 to pay off his entire school's lunch debt...and then some, giving the leftovers to the local high school to pay down their debt too.

Why a Fifth-Grader Decided to Pay Off His School's Lunch Debt

Daken Kramer may only be 11 years old but he's already quite the philanthropist. It was his last year at Thomas Ultican Elementary (TUE) and the soon-to-be middle schooler just wanted to say "thank you."

Knowing that TUE has a high number of students who come from economically challenged homes, he decided to tackle the problem head-on.

According to the Blue Springs School District , a lunch costs $2.55 – with a 40-cent reduction for students in need. But even with the reduction, it is still too big a financial burden for some families.

So, wanting to reduce their stress, he started a fundraiser called “Daken Feeds TUE” to clear the lunch debt books.

Daken took to social media to spread the word, posting a video on his mother's Facebook page .

"TUE has shaped me into an outgoing, kind, compassionate, respectful, strong leader," he said.

"While I can never repay this school for all of the hard work that has gone into my education and my well-being, I would like to do something to show my gratitude."

"A lot of kids at school already benefit from reduced lunches and some are still not able to pay their lunch debt. Please consider helping these families relieve one stress from their lives." Daken Kramer via Facebook

Turns out, he's not just a really kind kid, he's a pretty darn persuasive salesperson as well.

His original goal was $3,500 —a little more than the total outstanding bill — but when word got out, donations came pouring in.

Within two weeks, he'd already doubled it. In the end he raised an impressive $7,370.

For Daken's mom, Vanessa Kramer, her son's initiative had significant meaning. As a child who grew up with a single mom, she knows the struggle of food insecurity.

"Doing research for this fundraiser has brought a lot of sad memories up for me," she wrote in a Facebook post . "I was a kid who could have benefited from the free/reduced lunch program since I was being raised by a single mother...There were plenty of times where I had to get a PB&J instead."

Paying It Forward

Missouri fifth grade student Daken Kramer, 11, raises $7,370 to pay off his school's lunch debt.

Daken's actions spurred the school to start a brand-new initiative. It established a legacy award in Daken's honor, to be given to future fifth graders who follow his lead and strive to make a difference.

His teacher, Kristi Haley, announced the "Daken Kramer Legacy Award" at his grade 5 graduation.

“Your selfless actions will impact dozens of students throughout the district,” she said.

“It’s not the amount of money you raised, although that was absolutely incredible. It’s your heart, your drive, your determination and your grit to help others that inspires us.”

Daken was shocked. "It was definitely a surprise. I had no idea that they were going to do that," he said. "And I definitely started to feel a lot of emotions."

Not only did Daken make a huge difference in the lives of his fellow classmates, but his act of kindness will now have a lasting impact long after he has moved on.

One Person Really Can Make a Difference

Daken's fundraiser made a difference in his community but it also shed light on a larger issue — the problem with school lunch debt.

While Daken cleared his school’s meal debt, there's still a lot of debt to go. Blue Springs School District spokesperson, Katie Woolf, told CNN that meal debt totals more than $235,000 in her district alone.

And meal debt is reaching unprecedented heights across the United States. A recent survey from the School Nutrition Association found school districts have more than $17 million in unpaid meal debt.

Hoping to bring wider attention to the issue of school meal debt, Kramer says she and Daken are now working with a Missouri state representative to see if they can take their efforts to the next level.

“I'm trying to teach my kids that if the people who have the power to make a difference won't, it's OK to step up and be that person that will make a difference,” Vanessa said.

Copyright © 2024 Goalcast

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The Shopping Cart Theory – A Test of Moral Character

shopping cart theory essay

The Shopping Cart Theory – A Test of Moral Character

Congratulations, you made it through the holidays!  I hope you enjoyed yourself too much, laughed too hard, ate too many treats, and had another wonderful holiday season with friends and family.  And, I trust you are now as thrilled as I am to have it behind us.  Whew!

With January arriving, we are now poised to experience non-stop weight-loss ads, gym membership discount pricing, and the latest healthy meal-planning program launched.  You see, January is the time of the year when society tries to “help us” by pointing out room for improvement in our lives.  While you evaluate areas where you might want to get healthier in 2024, check your moral compass and ensure it’s in good shape, too.  You can purchase no app, widget, or membership that will bring you as much core satisfaction as keeping your moral character healthy.

When I speak of morals, let me be clear I am not speaking of ethics.  Ethics are external rules that vary depending on the environment.  For example, it’s ethically acceptable to tip a delivery person for bringing my lunch, but it’s not ethically acceptable to tip my US postal carrier for delivering my mail.  While I appreciate both sets of hard-working professionals, the ethics of tipping are not the same in each environment.  Morals differ from ethics, however, because they are personal principles that rarely change.  Telling the truth and avoiding deception should not change depending on the environment.  Neither should having integrity nor taking responsibility for our actions.  What’s right is right, and what’s not right should make the needle on our moral compass twitch.

Enter, “The Shopping Cart Theory.”  If you haven’t heard of this, let me bring you up to speed.  A few years ago, this theory went viral on social media stating it was the ultimate litmus test for someone’s moral compass.  Returning a shopping cart to the store or cart corral is relatively easy and convenient, and is what most of us recognize (absent a true emergency) as the right thing to do.  But, abandoning your cart in a parking lot is not illegal.  No one will punish you or fine you if you leave it next to your car instead.  And, you will gain nothing tangible by doing the good deed of returning the cart to its home.  So, why do it when there’s no credit and no repercussion?  Because you can.  You’re a good person who chooses to do good things.

Our moral compass directs us to be good members of our community who are capable of doing good things when there is no reward and no punishment either way.  An upstanding member of a community is morally right, good, and honest.  While no one is holding you accountable for leaving your cart to the mercy of a gale-force wind that is going to whip it around until it smashes into my car, your moral compass was probably twitching as you drove away from your abandoned cart.  You knew better.

As January kicks off society’s season of “you can do better” and bombards you with ads for self-improvement, I hope you take time to improve something that matters.  Knock the dust off your moral compass, and make sure it’s still giving you strong guidance for being a good person with integrity, forgiveness, and compassion, and one who takes responsibility.  Let your moral compass guide you to do what’s right on behalf of yourself, your family, and your community each time.  Pass the shopping cart test!

If you have questions regarding HOA law, contact any of our attorneys at 303.432.9999.  For more information on the shopping cart litmus test or any other operational and human resource trends, contact Missy Hirst, MSLA, Altitude Community Law’s Chief Operating Officer  at [email protected] .

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What is 'Shopping Cart Theory'? The test can tell if you are a good or a bad person

What is the making of a "good person?" Different people use different scales to determine who is good and who is not. Over the years, there have been many factors that have been used to categorize people. And the internet keeps providing more updated benchmarks for us to measure people by. The latest theory that has been making rounds on the internet is the "Shopping Cart Theory" and it can perfectly define a person's character. It is a modern-day take on the trolley problem with a more real-life application and implication.

Depending on how you answer the following question, you are either a good or a terrible person. Would you return a shopping cart to its designated spot after use or would you simply leave it wherever you want? Of course, this is provided that there is no dire emergency. The theory was picked up from a Reddit forum and was posted by a Twitter user for further discourse. Now, let's see what it indicates.

shopping cart theory essay

"The shopping cart is the ultimate litmus test for whether a person is capable of self-governing," the post explains. "To return the shopping cart is an easy, convenient task and one which we all recognize as the correct, appropriate thing to do. To return the shopping cart is objectively right. There are no situations other than dire emergencies in which a person is not able to return their cart. Simultaneously, it is not illegal to abandon your shopping cart. Therefore the shopping cart presents itself as the apex example of whether a person will do what is right without being forced to do it." So if you chose to return the cart, then you are a good person. At least according to this theory.

Reading this made me think of this alignment chart. pic.twitter.com/NnKbcZNmGD — Vorasi (@Orctits) May 9, 2020
pic.twitter.com/EZhllwYd7S — Rob #TeamGodzilla (@GunpowderPIot) May 15, 2020

The theory further states: "No one will punish you for not returning the shopping cart, no one will fine you, or kill you for not returning the shopping cart, you gain nothing by returning the shopping cart. You must return the shopping cart out of the goodness of your own heart. You must return the shopping cart because it is the right thing to do. Because it is correct." The theory then goes on to make some extreme declarations. It reads, "A person who is unable to do this is no better than an animal, an absolute savage who can only be made to do what is right by threatening them with a law and the force that stands behind it."

Someone from my country is based pic.twitter.com/AM5momA06g — Goose (@Fujyno) May 8, 2020

The theory then concludes by stating, "The Shopping Cart is what determines whether a person is a good or bad member of society." While the original trolley problem was also an exercise to determine a person's ethics, the modern version is less violent while also being more apparent. Especially when many retail workers had a lot to say about this based on their personal experiences. One person wrote : This is true. I'm the cart guy at a grocery store and I can confirm that I look down at you when I see you abandon the carts. Please for the love of God and man and all that is right with the world RETURN YOUR CART. YOU'RE NOT HELPING ANYTHING BY DITCHING IT! PLEASE!

I do return carts when the weather ain't nice in any direction. If it's a nice, balmy, sunshiney day, them shits stay loose. — AM-Android (@android_am) May 9, 2020

Another retail worker said this to make their case: Idk I just feel like as someone who once worked a retail job, I might not be required to put it back but the guy working would really appreciate it so I might as well make someone else’s day easier?? Idk it’s more about respect for the worker and not the unspoken societal law . There were many arguments and counter-arguments, for and against the theory. Here are some of the reactions of the people.

I agree SO HARD with this guy — BJ (@KogashiwaKai) May 8, 2020
Im sure this would qualify as “extreme circumstances” don’t want to give no kiddie snatchers a chance to swipe your kids because you were returning a cart to a stall that was far away — Darthode (@_Efe) November 21, 2020
They should be the president — Mayor of Lucky Boy, NV (@NumbaOneBastard) May 8, 2020
I'll admit sometimes I don't when i'm really in a rush or having a really shitty day. — MajoraZ (@Majora__Z) May 9, 2020
What if you take the shopping trolley across town away from the store and to your neighbourhood? — 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿DanceR🍒 (@DanceR1660) May 8, 2020

shopping cart theory essay

My shopping carts hold a quarter hostage until I return it to its home and I'll be damned if I lose a quarter — Combat Maid Shy'la (@ShylaNesthorn) May 8, 2020
Actually, for some of us returning the cart is a big deal. I have a couple of neurological conditions that make walking quite painful. But guess what; I STILL DO IT. In fact, my mom makes fun of me because if I pass a loose cart in a parking lot, I'll snag it and return it! — karinj58 (@karinj58) December 17, 2020
I purposely park near a cart return for two reasons: easier to find my car and easier to return my cart. — FranksFriend (@friend_franks) December 19, 2020

June 8, 2024

Random thoughts, anecdotes and specks of whimsy. In 180 words.

shopping cart theory essay

The shopping cart wars

Supermarkets and mass merchandisers can be hazardous to your health. On any store visit you have a 50-percent chance of being run over by a recklessly driven shopping cart.

Zombie-like shoppers and screaming urchins push carts with reckless abandon. They crash into one another and bystanders without the slightest concern, and they almost never apologize or accept culpability.

I saw one woman reading box labels. Her cart was parked in the middle of the aisle. Another woman deliberately rammed it instead of asking the lady to move it. The parked cart rudely careened into the backside of the oblivious label-reader. Not a guilty glance or a spoken word.

On another occasion I witnessed a young girl pushing a cart, running at a full gallop. She crashed into an employee stocking shelves, nearly knocking him down. The only uttered word was “Whoops.” The injured employee limped off.

I was once injured while holding onto the outside of the cart. An absent-minded jerk smashed his cart into my fingers. It drew blood. The guy said, “S-o-o-o sorry.”

Supermarkets should offer cart-driving courses.

More on shopping, loosely

Shopping cart slackery

Shopping bonanza

Hoarding nuts

Curses for you, Mary Anderson

A fixidiot succeeds, with difficulty

Earth to chefs

Listen and decide: whom am I?

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Published in Life

George Cranford

More posts from George Cranford

shopping cart theory essay

One Comment

Suzanne Besse

Thanks! Nice essay. I love the video. I agree with the shopping cart theory. However, what’s up with stores that offer no corrals in the parking lot and require folks to return their carts to the point of origin, for example, Hi Neighbor on Airline? Have they given up on us? For the record, I continue to shop there and return my carts, ensuring my status as a worthy member of society.

Comments are closed.

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How the Shopping Cart Explains Global Consumerism

How the Shopping Cart Explains Global Consumerism

How the Shopping Cart Explains Global Consumerism

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The book argues that the invention and popularization of the shopping cart from the 1940s onward provided the final link in the chain for the new system of industrialized food flow. First in the United States and then around the world, these carts enabled supermarkets to move their goods even faster off their shelves—in a sense, completing the revolution in mechanized farming, electric refrigeration, and road distribution that had occurred during the 1930s. Yet the cart, a basic machine among modernity’s new systems, also recast the work of food shopping in ways that attracted ambivalence and unease. In urging customers to buy all their groceries at once, it radically accelerated the consumerist experience of self-service, creating a new mode of accelerated shopping on impulse that often felt, ironically, far from “convenient.” Above all, as a host of U.S. cultural responses have suggested, the sheer uniformity of the shopping cart has unsettled the individualistic rhetoric of the supermarket industry. Increasingly omnipresent in online shopping, its basic form, defined as a void waiting to be filled, uncomfortably reveals the parallels that exist between human and nonhuman participants in the modern circuit of food flow.

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Large Capacity Shopping Cart

shopping cart theory essay

This cart was used by shoppers at the Costco Wholesale warehouse store in Arlington, Virginia. Although its shape is typical of carts used since the end of the 1940s, it is designed with a deep and wide basket with a sturdy lower rack for carrying oversized-sized and bulk packaged goods.

The convenience and carrying capacity of shopping carts play an important role in the sales of a self-service supermarket. Inventor of the earliest model of the shopping cart, Sylvan Goldman of Oklahoma City, described his idea in 1939 as a "combination of basket and carriage." The frame he devised held two baskets and was like a folding chair with wheels. In 1946, Orla E. Watson of Kansas City, developed these telescoping shopping carts that were "always ready" and required no assembly or disassembly of components before or after use.

Since their inception in the 1950s, warehouse stores represented a new, highly efficient model for distributing food and other goods to consumers at reduced prices. For shoppers, warehouse stores offered a radical alternative to the meticulously arranged supermarkets that had become so popular with the rise of suburbs in the postwar period.

Date Made: ca 2011

See more items in: Work and Industry: Retail and Marketing , Food , FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000

Exhibition: Food: Transforming the American Table

Exhibition Location: National Museum of American History

Credit Line: Gift of Costco Wholesale

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: 2011.0233.01 Accession Number: 2011.0233 Catalog Number: 2011.0233.01

Object Name: shopping cart

Physical Description: metal (overall material) plastic (wheels and trim material) Measurements: overall: 44 in x 30 in x 46 in; 111.76 cm x 76.2 cm x 116.84 cm part: wheel: 5 in; 12.7 cm

Metadata Usage: CC0

Guid: http://n2t.net/ark:/65665/ng49ca746ad-653c-704b-e053-15f76fa0b4fa

Record Id: nmah_1411535

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Viral video sparks debate about shopping cart etiquette

Returning a shopping cart to the corral when you’re done with it may seem like common courtesy to some – but for others, it’s a chore.

Many are now weighing in on the debate.

A California mom’s recent hot take on shopping cart etiquette has sparked a conversation about what’s the right or wrong thing to do.

“I’m not getting my groceries into my car, getting my children into the car, and then leaving them in the car to go return the cart,” Leslie Dobson said in a TikTok video. “You can judge me all you want.”

The video, posted just over a week ago, already has close to 12 million views. In it, Dobson said she doesn’t return her cart because of safety concerns with her children.

@drlesliedobson #groceryshopping #shoppingcart #traderjoes #protectourchildren #protectourkids #educational #groceries #singlemom #drleslie ♬ original sound - Dr. Leslie

At the Bridgeport Plaza in Waterloo, shoppers had mixed opinions on the matter.

“If it’s within the company’s property, I think its fair game,” said Dante, a Waterloo shopper, who added that stealing it is wrong. But, he explains, if you leave it anywhere else in the lot, it’s the employee’s job to grab it.

CTV News spoke to a Walmart employee in Waterloo, Ont. who doesn’t mind collecting them but said it can get tedious. Almost every night when the store closes, he said there’s about 15 abandoned carts by the bus stop on the other side of the lot. He also sees several left behind in parking spots, which can sometimes cause collisions.

Why return carts

Heather Wdowiak teaches her daughter to roll the cart back when they’re done unloading.

“I don't want to contribute to environmental pollution and it's expensive for the grocery stores [to replace them],” Wdowiak explained.

She often sees carts scattered across parking lots and the city. It bothers her, she admits.

“It doesn’t look pleasing.”

Ann Goodale from Waterloo said she always returns her cart because she thinks it’s the right thing to do.

“If you have trouble returning your cart, park [it] closer to the car, don't park a million miles away,” Goodale added.

Those who don’t return their cart, could be considered lazy by some.

“[It’s] rude,” Goodale said. “I think that we’re just not thinking of other people anymore.”

Shopping cart theory

A few years ago, the “Shopping Cart Theory” circulated online on places like Reddit. It claims you can determine a person’s character based on their cart habits. The theory suggests, if you return your cart you’re a good person and if you ditch it – quite the opposite.

“They're ignorant. They haven't been brought up by their mother right,” said Bill Maccoll, a shopper from Kitchener.

Ann Marie Gaudon, a Kitchener psychotherapist, has debunked that theory. She said there’s a lot of factors that go into decision-making, including mental health or physical capabilities.

“There's just so many reasons why someone may or may not return a cart. But I would never accept that as a judgement of anyone's moral character,” she added.

Judging someone based on that, she believes, is wrong.

“It's not healthy at all to place judgment. We all are who we are at the core. We're all very capable of doing bad things and very capable of doing good things,” Gaudon explained.

Kitchener bylaw

In 2017, the City Of Kitchener approved a Shopping Cart Bylaw. Businesses are required to ensure shopping carts are collected and managed appropriately.

“Any supplier who fails to meet the requirements may be issued an order requiring a written shopping cart management plan that meets the approval of the city and outlines what measures they are taking,” a spokesperson with the city said.

The maximum fine for failing to comply with the bylaw could be $10,000.

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shopping cart theory essay

  • DOI: 10.4324/9780203123911-24
  • Corpus ID: 166309182

Towards a Theory of Consumer Electronic Shopping Cart Behavior: Motivations of E-Cart Use and Abandonment

  • A. Scheinbaum , Monika Kukar‐Kinney , Kyle Benusa
  • Published 16 January 2012
  • Business, Psychology
  • MKTG: Buyer Behavior (Topic)

8 Citations

A model of online shopping cart abandonment: evidence from e-tail clickstream data, to purchase or to remove online shopping cart warning pop-up messages can polarize liking and purchase intention, self-escapism motivated online shopping engagement: a determinant of users’ online shopping cart use and buying behavior, online shopping abandonment rate a new perspective : the role of choice conflicts as a factor of online shopping abandonment, navigating digital marketing: examining self-escapism attitudes and online buying intentions in saudi arabia, study on trust & perceived risk regarding online shopping in pune: a factor analysis, modeling end-of-online-session from streaming data, abandoning the online shopping cart before finalizing the purchase : influences form attitudes, subjective norms and internet experience : a study with contributions from the theory of reasoned action, 37 references, the determinants of consumers’ online shopping cart abandonment.

  • Highly Influential
  • 21 Excerpts

Beyond Buying: Motivations Behind Consumers’ Online Shopping Cart Use

  • 10 Excerpts


Shopping online for freedom, control, and fun, why do shoppers abandon shopping cart perceived waiting time, risk, and transaction inconvenience, shopping motivations on internet: a study based on utilitarian and hedonic value, consumer perceptions of privacy and security risks for online shopping, increasing online purchasing: a study of web assurance and web insurance, the effects of utilitarian and hedonic online shopping value on consumer preference and intentions, hedonic and utilitarian shopping goals: the online experience, related papers.

Showing 1 through 3 of 0 Related Papers

Trader Joe’s customer says you shouldn’t return shopping carts

@drlesliedobson/TikTok jetcityimage/Adobe Stock (Licensed)

‘You can judge me all you want’: Trader Joe’s customer says you shouldn’t return shopping carts

‘i will grab your cart and put directly behind your car.’.

Photo of Brooke Sjoberg

Brooke Sjoberg

Posted on May 31, 2024     Updated on May 31, 2024, 1:40 pm CDT

In the sphere of social media, even the most innocuous statements can quickly draw the ire of a large group of people.

Frequently, discussions around politics and even practices like tipping can turn incendiary, as people often have strong, differing opinions about these topics.

One that might have flown under the radar as being controversial for many is returning your shopping cart at the grocery store .

One Trader Joe’s shopper called out other customers who give her dirty looks for not taking her shopping cart back to the cart return located in the parking lot. In her TikTok, @drlesliedobson a psychologist and content creator, says she refuses to leave her children alone in her car long enough to return her shopping cart.

“I’m not returning my shopping cart and you can judge me all you want,” she says in the video. “I’m not getting my groceries into my car, getting my children into the car and then leaving them in the car to go return the cart. So if you’re going to give me a dirty look, f*ck off.”

The Daily Dot has reached out to @drlesliedobson via TikTok direct message regarding the video.

@drlesliedobson #groceryshopping #shoppingcart #traderjoes #protectourchildren #protectourkids #educational #groceries #singlemom #drleslie ♬ original sound – Dr. Leslie

What is the ‘shopping cart theory?’

Some folks have determined that a person’s attitude toward returning their shopping cart after a trip to the store can say a lot about them. Described as the “shopping cart theory,” it is essentially a social litmus test that gauges an individual’s moral character. As previously reported by the Daily Dot , it proposes that a person’s capacity to manage themselves can be determined by whether they choose to return their shopping cart to its proper place or abandon it once it’s served its purpose.

However, shopping carts have been known to present some issues for shoppers who park in shared lots, especially if they are equipped with wheel locks tied to a geolocation system that only allows them to roll freely within a certain radius. Customers who have parked farther than these boundaries allow carts to travel have reported that they either have to leave their groceries long enough to move their car or remove their groceries from the cart altogether .

The video was met with harsh criticism from viewers who strongly disagreed with the poster about her personal shopping cart return policy.

“I have seen carts roll into parked cars just from the wind pushing them so no matter what, I always try to return them,” one commenter wrote. “I don’t want my car banged into, I won’t do it to others inadvertently.”

“One thing I’ve noticed after moving to America recently is that shopping cart return stations are all over the parking lot so never really more than 20 seconds away and you still can’t be bothered?” another said.

“My sister has 5 kids and still puts her cart in the corral,” one commented. “If you’re too lazy to put a cart up, that you got out, then do pick up instead.”

However, other commenters revealed that the poster is not alone in her opinion that there are times when they would rather not return their cart.

“I have the worst trouble with this at Costco,” one commenter wrote. “The return things are ROWS away. I’m not leaving my baby in the car where I can’t see it.”

“All the people saying ‘I always park by the cart corral’ are missing the point at places like Aldi that makes you take the cart back to the front of the building,” another wrote.

“I’ve thought the same thing,” one said. “Even by myself, walking way down away from my car to the cart corral is dangerous these days. I wouldn’t dare if my children with still little either. I’m with you on this.”

The internet is chaotic—but we’ll break it down for you in one daily email. Sign up for the Daily Dot’s web_crawlr newsletter  here  to get the best (and worst) of the internet straight into your inbox.

*First Published: May 31, 2024, 3:00 pm CDT

Brooke Sjoberg is a freelance writer for the Daily Dot. She graduated with her Bachelors in Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin in 2020.

Brooke Sjoberg

The psychology of online shopping cart abandonment: a scrutiny of the current research framework and building an improved model of the online shopper journey

  • Published: 18 April 2023

Cite this article

shopping cart theory essay

  • Banwari Mittal   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-9246-4379 1  

554 Accesses

3 Citations

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About two-thirds of all online shopping carts get abandoned, costing e-tailers substantial lost sales. Over the last two decades, consumer researchers have investigated the consumer psychology behind this consumer act. However, the guiding research framework for this entire body of research is conceptually flawed. To remedy this flaw, the present paper formulates a new construal of online shopping cart abandonment (OSCA), differentiating its three forms anchored in the three specific stages of the customer’s journey: exploration, pre-choice, and post-choice. The drivers of OSCA are then also pinned down to the stage-specific OSCA forms. The proposed framework suggests the need to reframe all of the past research hypotheses, for which purpose 15 propositions are advanced. Because the three stage-specific OSCA forms have their own individual drivers and, correspondingly, their own remedial managerial actions, future research findings informed by the proposed framework will be theoretically more valid and therefore more valuable as action guide for e-tailers.

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I thank Marla R. Stafford (William F. Harrah Distinguished Chair and Professor, UNLV.edu) and Arch Woodside (Boston College) for comments on an earlier draft of the paper.

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Executive Summary

Two decades of research on online shopping cart abandonment (OSCA) has yielded a list of factors that drive this shopper behavior that e-commerce vendors would like to minimize. The findings have been inconsistent across the studies, so more studies are needed, of course. However, the first need is to iron out the conceptual flaws in the current research framework. We identify these flaws, and to remedy them, we formulate a modified research framework. This framework uses the lens of “customer journey” and recognizes three forms of OSCA at three stages of the customer journey: exploration, pre-choice, and post-choice. This distinction of three OSCAs avoids confusing a step in the journey with the drivers of cart abandonment or cart completion. Without this “cleansing,” future research findings will continue to be atheoretical and therefore misleading. In developing this modified research framework or model, this conceptual essay makes a significant contribution to knowledge on this topic. To become aware of the flaws and gaps in the current framework, and then, based on this recognition, to have available a conceptually more valid framework is an asset for theory and for a body of knowledge. It will be of immense utility also to future researchers, and to aid their research further, we recast the various hypotheses of past research into 15 new propositions. The proposed framework will also be of significant value to e-tailers and designers of e-tailer and e-commerce platforms. First, the practitioners have used the drivers suggested in past research directly as their own guide; in the proposed research framework, they will now have a conceptually more valid inventory of drivers and a guide as to the stage of the customer journey for which each set of drivers will apply. Second, the findings of the future academic and scholarly research, if anchored in the proposed, conceptually more valid framework, will be theoretically more valid, and therefore of more value to managers. Acting on the findings of future research, improvements made in e-tailer platforms will in turn offer better shopping experience to shoppers.

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Mittal, B. The psychology of online shopping cart abandonment: a scrutiny of the current research framework and building an improved model of the online shopper journey. Electron Commer Res (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10660-022-09667-0

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shopping cart theory essay

'You can judge me all you want': California mom's refusal to return shopping cart goes viral

Leslie dobson isn't backing down after she declared in a now-viral video: 'i’m not returning my shopping cart and you can judge me all you want.' she says it's a matter of safety and she's not alone..

A California woman's hot take on shopping cart etiquette has caused a stir online, with many chiming in to say that whether you return a cart to a designated place or abandon it in the parking says a lot about your character.  

A 17-second clip posted by Leslie Dobson has gone viral, garnering over 12 million views on TikTok and Instagram since it was first posted at the end of last week. In it, Dobson admits that she doesn’t return her shopping cart and that it's a decision to keep her family safe.

“I’m not returning my shopping cart and you can judge me all you want," she says. "I’m not getting my groceries into my car, getting my children into the car and then leaving them in the car to go return the cart."

Dobson has gotten a lot of heat since the initial post, with many writing in the comment section that parents can, in fact, return carts, even if they young children.

Dobson has made multiple videos since the viral one, offering statistics and commentary on the number of crimes, particularly against children, that occur in parking lots. In the latest video , posted Wednesday, a child-free Dobson boasts about returning a shopping cart to the front of the store.

“If it feels safe, go return your cart,” she says in another video . "If it doesn’t feel safe, trust your gut and trust your intuition. And keep you and your family safe. It's not the worth the judgment you get."

Let’s break the “shopping cart theory" down.

What is the shopping cart theory?

"The decision to return a cart is the ultimate test of moral character and a person’s capacity to be self-governing,” according to reporting by The New York Times. 

A 2017 Scientific American column exploring why people failed to return carts appears to be the earliest reference to the the topic online, which appeared to have “ struck a nerve ” at the time, the newspaper reported. 

It has since become something of a social phenomenon and unofficial  “litmus test” to determine whether an individual is a “good or bad member of society,” according to KnowYourMeme.

While Dobson hasn't specifically weighed in on the shopping cart theory, she said in one follow-up video that she's "so happy this conversation is happening."

And, she says in another video, "if you feel bad about it, make it up in other ways."

"Go to a store when there's no risk in broad daylight and you don’t have your kids and go pick up 10 shopping carts," she says. "I'll do it today."

Why do some people fail to return shopping carts?

There are a number of reasons why people don’t put their shopping carts back, citing physical disabilities or having children to attend to as limitations, they don't feel like it or, "it's someone else's job."

For Dobson, a psychologist and a mother of two small children, it's all about her children's safety. Much of her TikTok account is about her work, which she says has included interviewing pedophiles and how they got to their victims.

"Risk isn’t worth it and our lives are precious," she has posted in comment sections. "I have seen lives destroyed."

People are just as passionate about the topic as they were then, with many debating one another in the 2017 Scientific American article comments just like they are now in the comment section of Dobson’s video. 

Not about the shopping cart at all, it's about the 'principle'

The consensus, at least among those commenting on Dobson’s videos, is that returning a shopping cart is easy to do. And that its "not that serious," Bri Herbert wrote in the Instagram comments.

“It was never about the shopping cart. It’s about the principle," wrote @ AriesArchdemon . "It’s about answering the question: Am I willing to take some time out of my day to do something nice for nothing in return?”

Another user named Carlos Castellano wrote that “small things like this is what shows character in a person."

"I am not a parent but even if it’s raining or snowing I return my cart,” he wrote.

Other users, who said they were moms themselves, wrote that they park near a cart return or bring their kids with them to return carts.

User @toysfortoks said they were able to return shopping carts despite their disability, writing: “I’m a single disabled momma. I have a placard and thus park in the handicap spots. I rely on the cart to help me walk and still walk the cart to the corral and hobble back to my car.” 

In one video, Dobson called the amount of views on her original video "insane" and indicated the comments don't necessarily reflect all of society.

"I've received probably, I don't know, 2,000 or 3,000 messages saying that people would post comments that they would not return the shopping cart because of safety," she says, adding: "But they're too scared of the attacks they’ll get on social media."

USA TODAY has reached out to Dobson for further comment.


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