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Archive for June 24th, 2011

How the Forgotten Inventor of the Shopping Cart Revolutionized Retailing and Shopping Forever

Friday, June 24th, 2011

by: Geoff Ficke

How the Forgotten Inventor of the Shopping Cart Revolutionized Retailing and Shopping Forever

When shopping today in mass merchandise stores and supermarkets, there are certain rituals that we take for granted. The most elemental is grabbing a shopping cart to push through store aisles and hold our purchases. There are rows of the four wheeled baskets lined up in front of retail outlets. This was not always so. Today, we do not stop to consider the commercial revolution that they caused and the personal fortune they generated for the inventor.

During the 1930’s, at the height of the Great Depression, retailing was a tough business. Customers had very little discretionary income. Price mattered more than ever. Most people only bought the basics, no more than they really needed to subsist. 

Sylvan Goldman was a struggling grocery store owner in Oklahoma City. He and his brother operated the Sun Grocery Chain, 20 stores spread Oklahoma. Later Mr. Goldman purchased two struggling stores, the Humpty Dumpty Grocery Stores. 

As the months went by Sylvan Goldman saw business steadily decline at his Humpty Dumpty stores. He needed a new promotion. Shoppers at that time, even if they had money, purchased only what they could carry. Stores provided small hand carried baskets, but as these filled with goods, they became heavy and unwieldy, especially for women to carry.

Goldman had an idea. He took a folding chair, fixed several baskets to the seat and set it on little wheels. He hired store greeters and demonstrators to introduce his customers to the contraption. For the most part, they balked. Men thought it was effeminate and women said it reminded them of pushing a baby carriage. 

This resistance did not deter a born Entrepreneur and Marketer like Sylvan Goldman. He set about building the prototype model of the first purpose built shopping cart as we know it today. The new rolling basket took off. Shoppers gravitated to the convenience and ease that the carts provided. Sales tickets grew exponentially as people consolidated trips and Goldman’s markets became shopping destinations. 

A Marketing Campaign was created to capitalize on the shopping advantage the shopping carts offered: “No Basket Carrying Plan”. Sylvan Goldman immediately filed for, and received, a patent on his invention. He earned a Royalty on every Shopping Cart sold until his death. His fortune was estimated at $400 million when he died in 1984. 

The simple invention of the shopping cart changed Sales Promotion, Consumer Product Marketing, Retail Buying, Store Merchandising and Consumer Product Shopping habits forever. Hot promotions could now be offered and consumers could stock up on the opportunity. Retailers stocked store shelves with deeper inventories of fast selling Consumer Products. Convenience became a retail watchword. The simple, ever ubiquitous shopping cart changed the buying habits of a nation, then the world. 

Few people today, beyond college students studying Marketing and Entrepreneurship, know the name Sylvan Goldman and that he invented to elemental shopping cart. His simple Invention is a central piece in the development of modern consumerism and Mass Market Retailing. It is also an example of how being creative and solving a problem can create vast personal wealth.