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Shopping Cart Handles: The Key to Make Buyers Purchase More?

Retailers use several tactics to encourage in-store purchasing but often neglect the importance of shopping cart design. A cart with parallel handles can lead to higher sales by activating flexor muscles in buyers’ arms, which has a positive psychological association in buyers’ minds. However, parallel-handled carts can be ergonomically less sound. So, retailers might have to choose between buyer comfort and higher profits when designing shopping cart handles.



Retailers use various tactics to influence buyers’ decision-making, such as in-store

promotions, service levels, layout, packaging, background music etc. One factor that is often overlooked is the shopping cart, which can impact “basket size” literally and metaphorically. For instance, smart carts (carts that indicate real-time purchase value) can encourage buyers to maximise spending. A significant aspect of shopping carts is the convenience of using them, and handle design is a critical part of that aspect from an ergonomic point of view. A study, therefore, tries to answer the question: How does shopping cart handle design impact sales?



The study found that handle design can have a major impact on the volume and value of

purchases made by shoppers. Compared to horizontal (the most common current design) and vertical handles, parallel handles (like those on a wheelbarrow) boost sales substantially across a wide range of product categories. The increase in spending and purchasing applied to virtue and vice products. The results were further validated by a simulated shopping experiment where parallel handles on shopping carts led to increased sales.


Sometimes surprising factors can increase in-store purchases, for instance, using “sold-out” signs. Here’s how such signage can impact buyer behaviour.


Interestingly, parallel handles are less ergonomically sound than horizontal or vertical

handles, so the increase in purchases cannot be explained on the grounds of ergonomics. The reason behind this surprising buyer behaviour is the psychological connection between muscle activation and attitudes and motivation. The two types of muscle movements involved in pushing shopping carts are flexion (bringing the forearm towards the upper arm, activating the biceps) and extension (moving the forearm away from the upper arm, activating the triceps). Both are opposite movements and affect psychological processes in different ways, perhaps due to their association with essential behavioural patterns.



For instance, flexion is associated with pulling things closer, such as bringing food to the

mouth, but the extension is associated with pushing things away. As a result, flexion gets associated with positive evaluations of stimuli (acceptance), whereas extension gets associated with negative evaluations (rejection). Flexion also triggers an approach-oriented motivation targeted at maximising gains, while extension triggers an avoidance-oriented motivation to reduce losses. These impacts on attitude and motivation help to determine the likelihood of a buyer purchasing and spending for both vice and virtue products. Therefore, a handle design that increases flexion (parallel handles) is more likely to increase retail sales.


Factors like packaging also impact sales via psychological associations. To find out how implied motion on packaging affects customer purchase decisions, check this out!


The study has significant practical implications for retailers. They can improve their top lines by making a design change to shopping carts, one of the most overlooked tools in a store. Changing the design of the handles from horizontal or vertical to parallel can see a jump in sales and revenues. This would be at the cost of buyers’ comfort while shopping, as parallel handles are less ergonomic. So, retail managers will need to choose between customer comfort or an increase in sales when deciding about shopping cart design.



However, it is notable that the discomfort mentioned by customers could result from unfamiliarity with the new design of the carts, a psychological switching cost. If so, familiarity can remove that issue while still leading to higher sales. Given how critical this factor could be to profitability, retail organisations can investigate the design question further.

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