Why Are Shopping Carts Huge Do You Know Do You Know Really

Economist Frances Woolley looks to studies and history to explain why shopping carts (“TROLLEYS“) have gotten bigger. Five possible explanations:

1. To get people to buy more. (“BEHAVIORAL ECONOMICS”)
2. Working women can shop less often so need to buy more at once.
3. People got richer and could afford to buy more stuff.
4. Early carts were badly designed and bigger cars are the One True Carts.
5. Larger supermarkets—result of barcodes, scanners—call for bigger carts.

The first one seems reasonable to me, but Woolley argues that “an economist should start with the premise that people aren’t stupid.” Which: hahha. Okay. Okay. Okay.

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12 Comments / Post A Comment

…and that’s exactly why economists’ predictions are so often wrong.

I’ve yet to meet a single person who rationally maximizes their own utility, all the time, with an infinite time horizon, but economists assume *everyone* is like that.

deepomega (#22)

@stuffisthings I mean sometimes yes but also sometimes no. My (limited!) understanding is that utility-maximizing is a group behavior. One dude might not do it, but a big enough group of people will (over enough time.)

@deepomega Well I tend to believe in the basic maxim of “people respond to incentives.” Though I am not 100% enamored with behavioral economics, they *way* in which they respond is frequently not utility maximizing or “rational” — like our chimp ancestors in an earlier post — and the assumption that it is explains why economists often advocate for what turn out to be bad incentives.

patiolanterns (#2,234)

I love reading Worthwhile Canadian Initiative. Both Frances and Nick Rowe taught me in university. Unfortunately non of it stuck because I am NO GOOD at economics, but I attempt to make up for this by learning about the economics of shopping carts instead.

wearitcounts (#772)

to quote the great tommy lee jones (in men in black): a person is smart. people are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals.

faustbanana (#2,376)

Logan, how’m I gonna fit my 72-oz tub of potato salad in a regular sized cart? Hmm? Hmm?

The real question is, can we generalize this theory? If we built an infinitely-sized shopping cart, wouldn’t GDP approach infinity?

Recession: solved!

WaityKatie (#1,696)

But can they explain why the aisles in most urban grocery stores are always just a leeeetle too small to accommodate the giant carts? That’s just to piss us off, right?

theotherginger (#1,304)

@WaityKatie yes. this was a big problem when i lived in an area full of high-rises, so the stores were smaller and there were more people in them. it was not that much fun. the end.

selenana (#673)

I can almost never use a cart because I get shopping cart road rage. Whatever will fit into a hand basket will just have to be enough because I can’t deal with the traffic.

TARDIStime (#1,633)

@selenana right there with you!
I’m really loving how there’s a new approach in the last couple of years, though – the shopping basket, but WITH A HANDLE AND WHEELS!!!
I love this because it means Mr TARDIStime doesn’t fill an entire shopping trolley and we can still manage heavy stuff like cans of lentils/tomatoes because we don’t have to carry it, we can just wheel it all around.

<3 Eddie Izzard tags!

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