Abandoned shopping carts cost taxpayers thousands of dollars

New York

Santa Fe, New Mexico, paid a local contractor $47,000 to assemble about 3,000 shopping carts around town in 2021 and 2022.

Fayetteville, North Carolina spent $78,468 collecting carts from May 2020 to October 2022.

Shopping carts continue to wander from their stores, emptying taxpayer coffers, causing havoc and frustrating local officials and merchants.

Abandoned shopping carts are a scourge on neighborhoods, as stray carts block intersections, sidewalks, and bus stops. They take up disabled spaces in parking lots and end up in streams, ditches and parks. And they clog municipal drainage and waste systems and cause accidents.

There is no national data on shopping cart losses, but U.S. retailers lose tens of millions of dollars each year replacing lost and damaged carts, shopping cart experts say. They pay vendors to rescue stray carts and hand out fines to municipalities for violating shopping cart laws. They also miss out on sales if there aren’t enough carts for shoppers during peak shopping periods.

Last year, Walmart paid $23,000 in fines related to abandoned carts in the small town of Dartmouth, Massachusetts, said Shawn McDonald, a member of the town’s Select Board.

Shopping cart on the loose.

Dartmouth public workers spent two years collecting more than 100 Walmart carts scattered around the city and placed them in one of the city’s warehouses. When Walmart applied for a new building permit, the company was told it had to pay the city thousands of dollars in daily storage fees, McDonald said.

“There is a safety issue with this cart going down the hill. I had one that was left on the road while I was driving,” he said. “I got to the point where I was pissed.”

More and more municipalities across the country are proposing laws to crack down on stray strollers. They impose fines on sellers for abandoned carts and return service fees, as well as ordering stores to lock their carts or install systems to contain them. Some places also fine people who remove carts from stores.

The Ogden, Utah, city council approved an ordinance this month that fines people who take shopping carts or own them. The measure also authorizes the city to charge retailers a $2 per day storage and handling fee for returning lost carts.

“Abandoned shopping carts have become an increasing nuisance on public and private properties throughout the city,” the council said in a summary of the bill. City officials “spend a lot of time picking up and returning or putting carts away.”

Matthew Dodson, president of Retail Marketing Services, which offers cart retrieval, maintenance and other services to leading retailers in several western states, said lost carts are a growing problem.

During the busy 2022 holiday season, Retail Marketing Service leased additional carts to retailers and recovered 91% of its approximately 2,000 carts, down from 96% the previous year.

Dodson and others in the shopping cart industry say the rise in lost carts can be attributed to several factors, including homeless people using them to hold their belongings or as shelter. Homelessness is on the rise in many major cities due to skyrocketing housing prices, lack of affordable housing and other factors. There were also cases of people stealing carts for scrap metal.

Some people, especially in cities, also use supermarket trolleys to bring their groceries home from the store. Other carts fly out of the parking lot if not locked during bad weather or at night.

Truth be told, the problem of tripping shopping carts is not new. They started leaving stores soon after they were introduced in the late 1930s.

“A new menace threatens the safety of grocery store drivers,” warned the New York Times in a 1962 article. “It’s a shopping cart.” Another New York Times article from 1957 called the trend “Napping in the Stroller.”

There is even a book, “The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification,” devoted to the phenomenon and an identification system for shopping cart strays, similar to birdwatching guides.

Edward Tenner, a distinguished scientist at the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, said the misuse of everyday objects like shopping carts is an example of “deviant ingenuity.”

This is similar to how talapia fishermen in Malaysia in the 1990s stole payphones and attached headphones to powerful batteries that emitted sound to lure the fish, he said.

Tenner hypothesized that people take shopping carts from stores because they are extremely versatile and not available elsewhere: “There’s really no legitimate way for an individual to buy a shopping cart in a supermarket.”

Supermarkets may have 200 to 300 shopping carts per store, while large chains have up to 800. Depending on the size and model, the carts cost up to $250, said Alex Poulos, director of sales at RW Rogers, which supplies the carts and other equipment. to shops.

Over the years, stores and cart manufacturers have increased cart sizes to encourage customers to purchase more items.

Stores have introduced several cart security and anti-theft measures over the years, such as cart fences and, more recently, wheels that automatically lock if the cart moves too far from the store. (Viral videos on TikTok show target customers struggling to push carts with wheel locks.)

Gatekeeper Systems, which provides cart control measures for the nation’s largest retailers, said demand for its “SmartWheel” radio frequency locks has increased during the pandemic.

In four stores, Wegmans uses Gatekeeper wheel locks.

“The cost of replacing carts as well as the costs of locating and returning missing carts to the store drove our decision to implement the technology,” a Wegmans spokesperson said.

Aldi, the German grocery chain that is expanding rapidly in the United States, is one of the few American retailers that requires customers to deposit a quarter to unlock their carts.

Coin-locked shopping cart systems are popular in Europe, and Poulos said more U.S. companies are looking to token-locked systems in response to the cost of runaway shopping carts.

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