Rogue Shopping Carts

If there’s one bugbear I have (and, truth betold, I have many) its trying to park in a. parking lot and finding that someone has abandoned their shopping cart in it. “Why,” I say to myself, “won’t they just put it back where it’s supposed to go?” (actually I say something much shorter and less inquisitive but you get the picture.)

Thankfully scientists have the same issue and they have done the important work to understand why this behaviour is constantly happening.

An article in Scientific American details the research and its findings.

The research all applies to stores where there is no deposit required to use the cart, something that is far more common in Europe than the US for some reason. But focusing on that situation they identified 5 reasons why people don’t return carts and 5 types of people defined by their attitudes to returning carts.

The article delves into the different types in a bit more details but identifies two groups for whom public opinion (or “social norms” if we want to sound more scientific) play a part. And for these two groups of the 5 it comes down to the old “Broken Windows” factors. Take this experiment;

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.

This is replicated in the other experiments and is the justification Rudy Giuliani gives for the policing tactics he introduced on New York.

Which is all well and good but all this means for me is that there is no way to ensure that I have a free parking spot unless Supermarkets introduce a deposit scheme.