The shopping cart was invented by Sylvan N. Goldman, founder of the Humpty Dumpty grocery chain in Oklahoma City.
It was obvious to him that many of his clients were carrying heavy, hand-held baskets full of groceries.
What they could buy depended on the basket size they had with them.
They decided to stop shopping after the shopping basket they were carrying became too full and heavy, but rather walked to the cash register to pay and leave.
Goldman hoped his customers would come more often and spend more money at his grocery store. He reasoned that there must be a more convenient way to transport his groceries and other purchases.
His first attempt at solving this problem was to instruct his employees to approach customers who had filled their baskets and offer to put them aside at the check-out counter so they could shop with a second basket.
In 1936, Goldman had a lightbulb moment one evening.
He “discovered the solution” to the problem of carrying shopping when he noticed two folding chairs in his office: “A basket could be placed on each seat of a folding chair if the seat were elevated a few inches and another identical seat was added below. The chair could be made mobile by installing wheels on each leg, and the back could be converted into a handle for pushing the cart.
Goldman and his employee Fred Young developed the shopping cart [shopping trolley] concept by adapting a foldable chair with wheels attached to the bottom of the legs and a stack of two metal baskets in place of the seat.
A couple of months later, the shopping cart [trolley] was complete.
On June 4, 1937, Goldman ran an ad in the newspapers of Oklahoma City showing a woman who has become overwhelmed while shopping. It’s brand new, and it’s just mind-blowing.
The advertisement said, “It’s new – It’s sensational. No more baskets to carry.”
However, the invention failed to catch on with consumers, and the launch was deemed a failure.
While the men protested that they were strong enough to carry baskets themselves, the women argued that they had pushed around enough baby carriages in their lives not to want the same yoke in the grocery store. Only elderly customers used them.
For young males, using a cart was seen as a sign of weakness, while for ladies it was seen as unattractive and suggestive of a baby stroller.
People were unwilling to embrace the shopping cart that was designed to make their lives easier. Instead, they preferred to keep the way things were always done, which was to carry shopping baskets that were cumbersome, heavy, and severely restricted their ability to enjoy shopping.
Goldman, though, had a brilliant mind. He didn’t give up and instead had models of all ages and sexes move items about his store as if they were shoppers. The intended effect was achieved.
The use of shopping carts at Goldman’s stores quickly became popular. In 1940, there was a seven-year wait list for the famous shopping cart.
Goldman kept making improvements to the first design. Due to the realisation that customers would spend more money if they had a larger cart, baskets grew in size.
Heavy, hand-carried baskets are largely obsolete now that shopping carts are available at most major retailers. Carts can be used as go-carts for kids, mobile homes for the homeless, or even as a laundry trolleys, all of which are more or less welcome uses.
In his book Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies, the late Calestous Juma, makes a case that for innovation to thrive, it has to battle the change of mindsets of the very same customers it is trying to help.
Drawing from nearly 600 years of technology history, Innovation and Its Enemies identifies the tension between the need for innovation and the pressure to maintain the status quo.
Innovation is great, but sometimes its enemies are not just its competitors but the customers who are supposed to benefit from it.
There are times when overcoming resistance to innovation requires more than simply technological solutions. Here is where storytelling may be a great tool for changing mindset.
Yes, please innovate, but also tell a compelling story.
People buy compelling stories.