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Pulling shopping carts not allowed?!?
July 17, 2014 12:02 PM   Subscribe

Is there a reason a store would have a policy regarding pulling/versus pushing a shopping cart? Safety? Is this specifically a Trader Joe's policy? Details inside.

So, I was at Trader Joe's today. It was not very crowded, lots of room to move around with my shopping cart. I was in front of the freezer cases, with my cart behind me, and as I moved along, I pulled it along behind me (from the front end, not using the handle bar end). There was a guy there restocking some items, who told me "please push the cart by the handle, do not pull it." I said, "oh, ok", and proceeded to push it as he asked using the handle. He was not in my path/near me or the cart. I was with a friend, who I then made a joke to when she approached me, that this Trader Joe's has a lot of rules, you have to push not pull your cart. I wasn't bothered or miffed by the incident, just thought it was odd and made this joke to her...the guy then proceeded to say, "no, I'm serious", as he was still within earshot. I said, "I know, I'm pushing it" (which I was...I was in compliance, I guess he just didn't think I was funny).

What is the reasoning for this? Is it safety? Is pushing the cart considered safer than pulling it behind you for a minute? Can pulling it cause cart damage somehow? This was a standard, metal grocery cart. The guy was so serious about it, I'm perplexed and I've never heard this in any store before. Is this standard store training? I want to know, overall, what is the general reasoning behind this?
posted by PinkPoodle to Shopping (35 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
It seems like it would be a lot harder to control a cart you're pulling behind you, and you wouldn't be able to see anybody whose foot you might run over because they would be behind you.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:06 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]




Sounds like a case of someone having a very, very small amount of power and being determined to use it
posted by rubadub at 12:11 PM on July 17 [39 favorites]


I would think the foot/ankle thing (this hurts like a mofo) and possibly maybe also just a general safety thing as far as being in control of the cart and your possessions (purse/wallet if stored in cart.)
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 12:12 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


in food service it's a safety thing. when moving food and equipment via cart, always push, don't pull. not sure i can pinpoint where i first heard it, but it's definitely "a thing".
posted by ps_im_awesome at 12:13 PM on July 17 [4 favorites]


I wouldn't be surprised to learn that their liability insurance requires that this is a policy for safety and risk reduction reasons.
posted by quince at 12:14 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


Perhaps he was confusing workplace rules (for employees) with general store rules for customers? It's very common to have workplace rules against pulling things, as that's how accidents happen. But it's hard to have something fall over onto your when you're pushing it.
posted by jpeacock at 12:16 PM on July 17 [7 favorites]


It may not be an official store policy; it could be that that particular employee, or his manager, has seen (and cleaned up after) enough pulled-shopping-cart mishaps to say something about it.

It's harder to control and steer a shopping cart when you're pulling it, and you have to take your eyes off either the cart itself or where you're going.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:19 PM on July 17


Could be a new employee who is very enthusiastic about rules, and, yes, a little person with a little power is the most dangerous thing.

I was once at a clothing store and an associate asked me not to try on items (a jacket) on the sales floor.

This makes no business sense -- people buy more if they interact with the product -- it's why you try to have mirrors everywhere in your store, why Old Navy has those 'quick change' stalls, why car salesmen are so eager to get you into a test drive -- and I wasn't being a hazard / exposing myself either.

So I could be making up a pleasant memory here, but a manager took her aside and explained that it was actually ok.
posted by batter_my_heart at 12:32 PM on July 17


He might be serious not because it's a rule, but because he doesn't want you to hurt yourself ... but is bad at expressing it.
posted by Jahaza at 12:34 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


I don't think this is a dumb power trip thing, i think it's either

1. a corporate policy they've gotten berated for not enforcing. as in, possibly an employee from higher up the chain or the DM or something was in there and saw people doing it and was like "Why aren't you guys telling people not to do this like you're supposed to, double down!". if you've never worked at a place like this, then yea, that kind of dumb shit happens all the time. "Why aren't you enforcing $STUPIDRULENOONEEVERFOLLOWS you have to start RIGHT NOW", and then you're the one who looks like a dong to customers.

2. the insurance thing. people getting their feet run over by other people when they're pulling it behind them, people fucking up displays, the ankle thing.

there's also a very valid point that when the cart is in front of you, you can see the entire thing and what it's near. when it's behind you, it could be running into/fucking up things or people and you just can't see exactly where it is or what it's rolling into or over.

This just doesn't seem like that weird, or a power trip to me... which is maybe a sign that i'm starting to grow up, ugh.
posted by emptythought at 12:40 PM on July 17 [14 favorites]


"..with my cart behind me, and as I moved along, I pulled it along behind me."

Not really exactly behind you, I bet, unless you were scuttling sideways like a crab or a Zoidberg. From the front, you probably presented as a double-wide load. I wasn't there, of course, so I don't know.

There is a thing in stores lately, where you haul your cart along as if it were a reluctant, draggy child you were holding by the hand. If it's busy, and the aisles are narrow, it adds friction and reduces traffic flow. I've seen it a lot in the Trader Joe's in Palo Alto.
posted by the Real Dan at 12:42 PM on July 17 [7 favorites]


emptythought is right: you need to see what the trolley is doing and to look where you're going, and pushing lets you do both at the same time. Pulling makes you split your attention forward and backward.
posted by Thing at 12:45 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


There is a thing in stores lately, where you haul your cart along as if it were a reluctant, draggy child you were holding by the hand. If it's busy, and the aisles are narrow, it adds friction and reduces traffic flow. I've seen it a lot in the Trader Joe's in Palo Alto.

This hasn't happened to me in a Trader Joes, but I've witnessed people being asked to push, not to pull their carts for this very reason. I worked in a nicer grocery store several years ago with very small aisles, and managers would routinely ask folks not to do this as well. It isn't 'standard practice' but like emptythought said, it probably is 'on the books' somewhere, and someone is catching flack for it.
posted by furnace.heart at 12:48 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


Just to follow up (and I don't disagree with anyone's thoughts on safety/policy/reasoning, all makes plenty of sense and I'm sure is true, the question is highly motivated by having never encountered it before myself), but since a couple people have mentioned this, I want to point out:

The store was not busy at all.

I was not in an aisle, it's a freezer case against a store wall, with no other wall for about 12ish feet, which in the configuration of this Manhattan Trader Joe's, is actually another store wall, not an aisle either (odd space in general, but very open area).

The cart was directly behind me, as I was moving very, very slowly and picking up items in front of me from the open freezer case to my right and turning around and putting them into my cart, centered pretty much directly behind me, I wasn't really moving through the store or going anywhere. It was more like here is item I want, shuffle about 1/2 foot forward, turn around and deposit into cart, repeat.

However, if this is policy, how I was pulling the cart is irrelevant, so I still understand why someone would say, hey, can't pull that cart, please push it!
posted by PinkPoodle at 1:06 PM on July 17


I have seen this a lot recently in grocery stores, and hey, it just happens to be my grocery store pet peeve. Why? Because people do not pull their carts directly behind them, they pull them off to the side, effectively taking up double the space in an already narrow aisle. No one can get by the moving roadblock.
posted by sanka at 1:11 PM on July 17 [10 favorites]


Saying it once is fine. But "no, I'm serious" is weirdoville. Someone needs a life.
posted by AppleTurnover at 1:37 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


Well, Trader Joes is owned by *Aldi Nord, and apparently it isn't that uncommon to be yelled at in German supermarkets for breaking the rules. Maybe it's a slow osmosis of the corporate culture coming through?

(*Not to be confused with Aldi Sud, who owns Aldi Supermarkets in the US, which are gateways to the 9th level of Hell.)
posted by Debaser626 at 1:41 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


He might've needed to say it because his manager supervises the floor from the camera feeds.
posted by spunweb at 1:50 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


I can't imagine the company policy is to berate customers. My experience with retail customer service is to never speak like that to a customer. I'm thinking power trip.
posted by spaltavian at 2:08 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


It doesn't seem like he was berating her or like he was on a power trip. It sounds like a pretty normal interaction to me - he asked her not to do something and then wanted to reiterate it because he thought she wasn't taking it seriously. Not sure how that could be construed as power-trippy.
posted by majesty_snowbird at 2:15 PM on July 17 [9 favorites]


Seems like an easy experiment - don't change the way you act in this store and see if in the future someone else asks you to push and not pull. If so ask them why - not as a confrontation just for information. If no one ever asks again, then you know this was probably just one overly zealous employee.
posted by NoDef at 2:17 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


As to whether a store would tell their employees to correct customer's shopping cart usage, when I was a cashier we were supposed to tell people not to let their children stand up in shopping carts. You could get in trouble for not doing it.
posted by interplanetjanet at 2:21 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


I would assume that they discourage it in TJ's because the stores tend to be crowded and have narrow aisles and such. And also, the running into your own ankle thing; that hurts like hell, and I have actually cut myself doing that in the past. Maybe they just don't want people wandering around with bloody ankles?
posted by sarcasticah at 2:45 PM on July 17


Seconding sanka. I live in Manhattan and get incredibly miffed by people who pull their carts behind them, as if they are walking around a suburban Stop N' Shop at midnight, and not a crowded uptown Fairway on Sunday afternoon. Ugh. When you pull the cart, you have no idea what kind of obstacle you are presenting to the people behind you.

I wish that TJ's employees would tell more shoppers to not pull their carts. It would make for a somewhat more pleasant experience. I also wish the 72nd Street store would wash their handbaskets more thoroughly, but that's another story.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 3:01 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


This does not answer your question, but strikes me as ironic. I was shopping at a local TJ's and saw a toddler pushing a cart with a baby in the seat part, which flipped over... Baby took a tumble, and a TJ's employee came running to help. Mom was nearby, but got there after the employee. It struck me as odd that the employee had seen the toddler pushing the cart and not said anything (that little tyke zipped right past him), and sort of worrisome that the carts could tip so easily. I guess some TJ franchises are more uptight about cart rules than others. I personally hate it when I get spoken to like a naughty child, which your guy's follow up statement sort of sounds like. If you did what he asked he should have left it alone, even though you made a joke to your friend (which most people would do).
posted by hippychick at 4:12 PM on July 17


I could see this rule maybe making sense in some store that is frequently jam-packed with customers (and if the rule exists it had better be signposted conspicuously), but if that was said to me and it wasn't crowded at the time, I would assume the person saying it was a lunatic control freak with boundary issues.

Funny that Aldi's is mentioned here: the only grocery store I've ever been to where you have to pay extra for a shopping cart and plastic bags, and there is only one path from the door down the aisles to the registers. Sounds nuts, right? I bet people who have never been in one don't even believe a store like that exists. They really are bizarre; I'm never shopping in one again.
posted by the big lizard at 4:27 PM on July 17


It doesn't seem like he was berating her or like he was on a power trip. It sounds like a pretty normal interaction to me - he asked her not to do something and then wanted to reiterate it because he thought she wasn't taking it seriously. Not sure how that could be construed as power-trippy.

No, this was super power-tripy. After he said it the first time, she complied but made a joke to her friend about. He then entered the customer's private conversation to reiterate that he was serious:

I wasn't bothered or miffed by the incident, just thought it was odd and made this joke to her...the guy then proceeded to say, "no, I'm serious", as he was still within earshot. I said, "I know, I'm pushing it" (which I was...I was in compliance, I guess he just didn't think I was funny).

He was at this point regulating how she spoke and how "serious" someone is supposed to take him. He was also listening to a conversation between two customer, and apparently monitoring thought, not just action, compliance.

I cannot think of a single customer-serving organization that would approve of that, and it was rude just by the rules of normal human interaction. Dude is question is definitely a self-important asshole, I don't think he was following store "script".
posted by spaltavian at 4:59 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


The employee might have reiterated it because he thought you were making fun of him or thought he was joking and retelling the joke to your friend. If he was right there while you were saying it, he may not have been deliberately eavesdropping but heard anyway.
posted by PussKillian at 5:29 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


This is daft, and if they were serious about it, it would be on a sign somewhere obvious.
posted by kjs4 at 6:51 PM on July 17


I would guess that corporate / the regional vice president / the district manager / someone high and mighty has decided that this is the new focus for safety and pleasant shopping experiences in their stores, and raked the store manager over hot coals for it, who then bludgeoned it into the heads of all of their employees because no one wants to look bad for the boss and because we're all easily replaceable.

Customers behave in bizarre manners in retail environments, and can get extremely defensive when they're called on it. What's worse is that, in several of the stores I've worked for, any interaction that results in an upset customer results in some sort of disciplinary action, which leads to fun things like notes in employee files for politely reminding customers that the store is posted "No Smoking." Since this means that we are often responsible for managing customer behavior but powerless to actually do anything about it, most of the retail employees I've worked with just try to minimize their contact with customers as much as is practical.

I'm biased towards the employee in this one because it's very easy to see myself in that same situation, but in this case I might have done something very similar. Especially considering the joke made immediately afterwards -- I find it very hard to judge tone when customers break out the humor, and usually when customers start mocking me, it's a sign that things are about to go very badly for me (as in, someone's about to call for my management), and if I'm caught between "Kortney, why didn't you enforce our new Cart Propulsion Methodology Action Plan?" and "Kortney, this customer is mad at you for reminding them to push their cart" the second one is easier to downplay when I'm begging for hours during evaluations.

It's entirely possible that the employee in this case just felt like making you jump through hoops for no good reason. If that's the case, then I apologize on behalf of retail employees everywhere. But most of us want to have the bare minimum of interaction with you that we can get away with, and we certainly don't want to have to tell you "no" to anything, so I'd guess that this was externally motivated and that he was doing his (somewhat socially inept) best.
posted by Kortney at 7:42 PM on July 17


(And for what it's worth, we certainly don't have this rule in my store. I don't think I've ever seen anyone pulling a cart behind them like that, unless it's us, after hours, goofing off. So on that front, I think the rule is pretty silly.)
posted by Kortney at 7:45 PM on July 17


This is the Manhattan TJ's?

It was probably more crowded than you think. Even if you were the only person in that particular aisle at that particular time, the vast majority of the rest of the time, the store is so crowded that people routinely shop from the line, which snakes through the entire store. A major aspect of a New York TJ's employee's job is crowd control.

Is it possible that the employee is used to reminding shoppers how to be courteous in a crowded store and forgot that it wasn't terribly busy at the moment?
posted by Sara C. at 10:03 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


I'm in TJs all the time, and I've never been treated this way. Had they wanted me to push the cart, the employee would have asked nicely. Maybe you just got a guy having a really bad day?
posted by persona au gratin at 1:37 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


[Some comments deleted. Please note that the question is: Is there a reason a store would have a policy regarding pulling/versus pushing a shopping cart?... Is this specifically a Trader Joe's policy? ]
posted by taz at 5:42 AM on July 18


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