I've been workin' in the dairy, all the livelong day
June 19, 2006 5:48 PM   Subscribe

Why are shopping carts abandoned? Why do people leave unrelated stuff in random aisles?

I have worked in the dairy department of a supermarket for the past two years. Sometimes, there would be abandoned carts in my aisle, with some items in it. Not a lot, just a little. In fact, there were two in my aisle today, one there for eight hours and one there for six (I left and they were still there.) Why do people abandon carts?

Also, why do we get random stuff thrown in different places? For example, I find people leave meat by the butter, fruit by the cheese, face cleaning products, etc etc. I can understand people leaving deli (a different department) cheese by our cheese, but two unrelated products together?

Since I'm the last aisle in the store, money's probably a factor ("forgot my wallet, can't buy stuff" or "don't have enough for the meat, and I need butter") but this stuff happens so often that they must be some other reason. It also happens in all the other store's aisles.
posted by daninnj to Grab Bag (44 answers total)
 
Shoplifters use carts as a cover / front / disguise, ditch them once it's time to go.

Not that I'd know anything about that, ahem.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:56 PM on June 19, 2006


I would imagine that the "forgot my wallet" argument probably happens a lot more than you think. It's happened to me quite a few times but I usually try to put stuff back on the shelves, or I'll tell someone (I never use carts, just the little baskets). Leaving the carts behind is rude.

Meatbomb is probably right too. I've heard of that as well.
posted by purephase at 5:59 PM on June 19, 2006


Another factor is kids. Older kids pick up stuff that they want when Mom's not looking. Younger kids pick up anything they can reach when the cart is parked. When Mom notices, she dumps it on the nearest shelf.
posted by smackfu at 6:00 PM on June 19, 2006


I think people are often just too lazy.
posted by sweetkid at 6:07 PM on June 19, 2006


Unlikely to be the same phenomina, but I once left my cart to get an item, and returned to find it gone, with another cart nearby. Another shopper had absent mindedly wandered off with my cart thinking it was hers. I couldn't find where she left it (which surprised me, but it was a huuuge store), so I had to start my shopping over, somewhat pissed off. I did find my cart eventually though :)
posted by -harlequin- at 6:07 PM on June 19, 2006


Why do people abandon carts?

Another reason: they've decided they didn't want to shop after all and left it there rather than push it around.

why do we get random stuff thrown in different places?

People decide they don't want the item, and they don't feel like taking it back to where it came from.

Don't underestimate plain old laziness as a factor.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:07 PM on June 19, 2006


I often realize I have started using someone else's cart with similar items by mistake and then embarressedly (?) abandon said cart when I realize it's full of things I don't want.
posted by johngumbo at 6:08 PM on June 19, 2006


I once left one because the line to check out was too long.
posted by willnot at 6:15 PM on June 19, 2006


I've done this a few times simply because I realized that the checkout line was way too long for me to wait in. Since I generally blame long lines on mismanagement of the store, I rationalize that they're reaping what they sow. Not that it makes a difference either way anyhow.

The unrelated items on the shelves is just laziness. Someone realizes they don't want peanut butter, so they put it with the screwdrivers because that happens to be where they're standing. I try not to do this, as it's basically a middle finger to the stockers, but I admit I have done it a few times with non-perishable items. I do try and leave the outcast in some obvious place so that the stockers will find it easily.

On preview, I see willnot hit part of this already.
posted by bingo at 6:19 PM on June 19, 2006


I think the answer to the real, larger question is "Because I'm paying for service in addition to the price of these goods, and that service includes my not being required to police my own behavior."

In other words, "I forgot my wallet. Do I put in the extra effort to put all this stuff back? Naw, fuck it, that's what bagboys are for. I pay their salaries anyway."

Oh, it's laziness all right. But laziness wrapped in the sugary sweetness of half-assed justifications.

I will admit falling prey to this line of thinking, but not in grocery stores. My pet peeve is airlines posting signs saying, "Help us be on time, with behaviors X, Y and Z."

And my reaction is "Fuck you. YOU make sure we're on time. That's your fucking job. That's what I'm paying for. Get the plane here earlier, board the passengers more efficiently, stop cramming teeny tiny seats into planes, get better baggage handling so people don't feel the need to carry everything onto the plane and enforce the fucking carry-on restrictions."
posted by frogan at 6:28 PM on June 19, 2006


As an ex-cashier, we had a system called "strays" where we would happily take what you didn't want at our register and put them in "stray carts" (just shopping carts) at customer service, and once a shift they'd restock the items in the proper location.

The ones that really bugged me were the ones who were loading their carts, seeing something they didn't want to buy afterwards, and stick it on the magazine rack as if I didn't see them do it. I just said, "I'll take that for you!"

I also personally had a woman who had switched tags on some clothing items (putting cheaper prices on them) come down my lane... security called to notify me and when he came to my register, she took off, acting like she had forgotten to buy something, and ditched the cart in the pet food aisle and left the store.
posted by IndigoRain at 6:29 PM on June 19, 2006


The one time I abandoned a cart I was in a bad mood after work and probably shouldn't have been out in public. Petulant and grumpy, I needed to get three mildly specific but common items for dinner and the grocery store was between shipments or something because one of the three things wasn't stocked and I had already had to make do with substitutions for the other two.

Abandoning my cart was how I stuck it to the man, man.

(so, yes, lame and stupid)
posted by cCranium at 6:32 PM on June 19, 2006


Don't rule out the stoners who start to shop and cannot finish it or who start out with serious munchies and grabbing all sorts of things then realizing that chips and beer will do. No need to make the awesome taco salad or the bacon, egg and cheese sandwich.

I heard abnout that from friends. cough cough.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:11 PM on June 19, 2006


Sometimes people shit their pants (MP3).
posted by Robot Johnny at 7:24 PM on June 19, 2006


Could they have left because of an emergency? They got sick? I've left a cart because the line was too long and I didn't need the stuff that much. But that wasn't in the middle of the aisle.
posted by jaysus chris at 7:31 PM on June 19, 2006


I've abandoned carts a couple of times when my daughter threw particularly bad temper tantrums. Subjecting everyone in the store to a kid wailing at top volume while I returned everything or waited in the checkout line seemed worse than making someone restock the items in my cart.
posted by jrossi4r at 7:34 PM on June 19, 2006


I've abandoned a cart or two in my day when my toddler decided halfway through shopping that it was time to SCREAM LIKE SHE WAS BEING ABUSED because a dust mote touched a nerve or something. I figure staff would rather put away a couple boxes of Cheerios than listen to Wonder Lungs imitate a banshee for an hour, complete with the up close and personal solo in the check-out lane.
posted by headspace at 7:34 PM on June 19, 2006


Whoa, jross4r, we are psychic twins to a SCARY degree.
posted by headspace at 7:35 PM on June 19, 2006


I've abandoned carts a couple of times when my daughter threw particularly bad temper tantrums.

Ditto here with my autistic son. He has gotten much better in the past few years, but when he was younger if he went into full meltdown mode there was simply nothing to do but remove him from the store. Niceties like putting things back paled in importance next to a)removing him from the situation to calm him down, and b)protecting the innocent bystanders whom he would hit or kick randomly for no reason if they were in range. Once we left the store there was just no going back that day. Sorry to anyone who we may have inconvenienced because of it.
posted by Lokheed at 7:47 PM on June 19, 2006


Kids collecting stuff Mom doesn't want, and doesn't know the proper location of. Hubby collecting stuff Wifey doesn't want and . . .

I have had my mostly-loaded cart borrowed by a confused fellow-shopper. If they later came to their senses, I bet they'd leave my cart where it was and take their stuff in search of their own wheels. I saved them part of the trouble by offloading their items next to where I recovered my cart. Sorry, stockers, but I don't know where that stuff came from; I assume you do.

I have also had my cart commandeered by some asshat who was too damned lazy to walk to the front of the store and get their own. Had stuff in it, too. I had to go get another cart and reassemble my collection of stuff. I don't know where Mr. Entitlement left my first collection.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:54 PM on June 19, 2006


I'll second the 'kid having temper tantrums' reason.

In a situation like that, you take the kid out. Period.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:18 PM on June 19, 2006


People are lazy, inconsiderate slogs. That's what I've noticed.
posted by drstein at 9:42 PM on June 19, 2006


Meat by the butter? Fruit by the cheese? When I worked in a grocery store, I would routinely fine yogurt in the freezer and frozen dinners next to the mayonnaise. At least your customers get the temperature right. People are just lazy.
posted by samw at 9:51 PM on June 19, 2006


I worked in a supermarket and am usually very sympathetic to people working there, but there are reasons why I abandoned my cart:
1. If there are very long lines, I have only a couple of items, and there is enough personnel in the store, complaining about "all those pesky customers". (can you tell I am not in the US?)
2. If my toddler needs to pee and the store does not have a toilet she can use. What else can I do than leave the store immediately?
posted by davar at 11:42 PM on June 19, 2006


This really ticks me off, and I'm just a customer. It may come from having a librarian for a mother, but if you don't want something, either put it back right where you found it or hand it to someone who works there and explain the situation.

The worst thing I've seen is packages of deli meats which someone has gone to the trouble of ordering at the deli, then half way through thought `wait, I don't need sliced ham' and deposited it with the socks and underwear.
posted by tomble at 11:49 PM on June 19, 2006


In a situation like that, you take the kid out. Period.
Yes, I often agree they need to be shot. :)

But yes, laziness. And entitlement. People lose all forms of consideration when in a public space -- see also littering, spitting, dumping, ...
posted by Rhomboid at 1:37 AM on June 20, 2006


(almost) never seen it in Belgium.
Why? You need to put a 1 or 2 euro coin in a cart in order to be able to take it. problem solved. (Here's what it looks like: http://www.yilin.cn/pic/2004515151923.jpg)
Don't you have that in the US of A?
posted by lodev at 2:34 AM on June 20, 2006


No, and there would be a bloodbath of rage at the site of the first grocer to implement it.

Though this concept is firmly established at the airport.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:15 AM on June 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


Actually, a local (New England) grocery chain did try that. You had to put a quarter in a lock on the cart to release it from the rack in the parking lot or in the store. You got your quarter back when you re-racked the cart. It did eliminate loose carts, and I didn't see any instances of cart-rage. I think that lasted about a year. Now everything is back to normal, with carts clogging up the handicapped spaces, sitting individually in the middle of spaces next to the cart corral, rolling through the lot on their own, etc. A triumph for individuality and personal freedom.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:58 AM on June 20, 2006


As mentioned previously, I abandon my shopping when I see that the checkouts are packed. And the dairy aisle is the last place to go in most stores. I figure if the store hates me enough to make me stand in a soviet-style line, I should just leave because I know when I'm not wanted.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:39 AM on June 20, 2006


I've been guilty of putting non perishables on shelves where they don't belong because I suddenly realized I don't need them or found a substitution. (People who leave yoghurt in the hardware aisle are beneath contempt, though.)


The carts? Clearly a beta test of the Rapture.
posted by CunningLinguist at 4:39 AM on June 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


Aldi (a small discount grocery store) does the quarter for a shopping cart thing. It works well, actually. Also, you buy your own bags. It isn't a bad system, really, and the groceries are good quality for really low prices.
posted by bristolcat at 4:52 AM on June 20, 2006


The only time I've ever done this is when my old girlfriend and I had a huge argument in the middle of the supermarket. I think it was over tunafish. But obviously, over something deeper which the yuna just set off.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:40 AM on June 20, 2006


Ahh yes, I forgot to mention that I do get other department's perishables in my aisle. Frozen, which defrosts, but the worst is food either from hot foods or the wok. Putting it in the dairy cases is worse, because you're ruining food someone had to prepare, cook, and package. That makes me steaming.

I never thought of the baby thing. And there was a toddler screaming on top of her lungs yesterday. Maybe her mother left the store.
posted by daninnj at 6:11 AM on June 20, 2006


lodev: no cart rentals at US grocery stores. Beyond some obvious "entitlement" issues, I could see different shopping habits being behind it... In the US grocery shopping is (often) a once-a-week event, rather than a-little-bit-every-day. Also, the pervasiveness of mega-food and mega-everything stores increases the number of things you "need" to buy in a given trip, too, and the store sure doesn't want to prevent you from buying it...
posted by whatzit at 6:56 AM on June 20, 2006


Jerry Seinfeld explained it this way, in a stand-up routine before he got his TV show.

I don't work at the supermarket. If I suddenly decide I don't want something, I'll put it anywere -- I don't care if the manager's looking right at me. "Yeah, those ar my peaches on the Pennzoil -- what about it? You've heard of an impulse buy, well that was an impulse not-buy."
posted by Rash at 8:56 AM on June 20, 2006


Unlikely to be the same phenomina, but I once left my cart to get an item, and returned to find it gone, with another cart nearby. Another shopper had absent mindedly wandered off with my cart thinking it was hers. I couldn't find where she left it (which surprised me, but it was a huuuge store), so I had to start my shopping over, somewhat pissed off. I did find my cart eventually though
posted by -harlequin


Some friends and I used to do this (years ago) as a prank. Load up a cart and then switch it for someone else's when they aren't looking. Push it to the other end of the store and switch again. Repeat.

I am sure this made people very angry.
posted by zonkout at 9:42 AM on June 20, 2006


whatzit writes "I could see different shopping habits being behind it... In the US grocery shopping is (often) a once-a-week event, rather than a-little-bit-every-day. Also, the pervasiveness of mega-food and mega-everything stores increases the number of things you 'need' to buy in a given trip, too, and the store sure doesn't want to prevent you from buying it.."

Weird, Canada has the coin to release the cart thing. It makes so much sense I amazed it isn't used in the US.

I still see abandoned carts though, probably for the crying child etc. reasons outlined.
posted by Mitheral at 10:42 AM on June 20, 2006


When I worked at a grocery store, we had an employee who would do this with "soft" perishables (things that you can't sell to consumers after they've been sitting for god-knows-how-long but are fine for employees to take from the spoilage table). So, occasionally, the dude would fill up a cart with a bunch of stuff like frozen bananas, which would get just soft enough to be good at the end of the shift.
He admitted this while he was high on the loading dock, but none of us really begrudged him the impulse since it was such a shitty, disfunctional place to work.
posted by klangklangston at 1:38 PM on June 20, 2006


I abandoned a couple carts when I ran out of checks (before I had a debit card). However, I came back and both times the cart was where I left it and everything I wanted was still in it.

And yeah, the "quarter to release a cart" thing here in Canada is awesome. You get your quarter back when you return the cart to its proper place so I don't know why the U.S. doesn't do it.
posted by deborah at 1:47 PM on June 20, 2006


If they did it in the USA, people would steal the carts. Carts are worth more than a quarter, so it would be a loss for the store.
posted by bingo at 7:44 PM on June 20, 2006


So not charging a quarter to unlock the carts stops their theft? How does that work?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:21 AM on June 21, 2006


The quarter isn't to stop cart theft. It's to encourage people to put it back in the corral.

(Cart theft is handled by an electric fence kind of system, in places where it is a problem.)
posted by smackfu at 6:02 AM on June 21, 2006


I've never seen an electric fence system that I'm aware of, but I have seen a lot of stores in impoverished neighborhoods in which metal poles prevent carts from leaving the building. Honestly, I'm not sure how much the quarter thing would motivate people (in the US, anyway) to return the cart to the corral. Personally, I would consider the 25 cents spent, and a license to just leave the car sitting wherever my whims dictated.
posted by bingo at 7:47 PM on June 21, 2006


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