Customer in Training, reads the little flag-shaped sign. The six-year-old girl valiantly pushes her mini shopping cart down the aisles, her candy-pink fairy costume making waves with each step. Some customers find it touching. But is this tactic a profitable one for the retailer?
It’s impossible to tell, because it seems that no one has studied this question scientifically. POTLOC has made dozens of calls to many businesses. None had studied this question.
“No one has spoken to me about this before. And whether a subject creates problems or enthusiasm, I can guarantee you that I’ll hear about it”, revealed Léopold Turgeon, CEO of the Quebec Council of Retailers (CQCD). According to the Association of Food Retailers of Quebec (ADAQ), it’s the same story. “I don’t know of a single study about this rather specialized subject”, confided Pierre-Alexandre Blouin, CEO of ADAQ. “Besides, the children pushing these carts aren’t the customers, they’re accompanying them. At the very least, the mini carts represent one initiative among many to facilitate a more pleasant shopping experience for parents. And it allows us to channel the children’s energy, as long as they’re being properly supervised by their parents.”
At the IGA supermarket in Sainte-Adèle, for example, they have seen neither an increase in sales or in complaints linked to the service.
At Provigo, the Quebec subsidiary of titan Loblaws, we confirmed that there were no performance indicators linked to this service at their disposal. However, their spokesperson asserts that miniature carts are, in general, quite appreciated by parents. The carts can be seen as a teaching tool, helping future customers learn to shop for groceries. And kids love when we give them responsibilities, it helps the time pass while they’re in the store.
This enthusiasm is not universal. In 2016, Target removed all of its mini carts from 72 of its 1850 stores. The giant put an end to the pilot project after a few weeks, but only in certain locations, reported the Chicago Tribune.
At the same time, the retailer disclosed that it had been inundated by complaints from customers who had been injured in collisions. Parents evidently had trouble controlling their children’s excess enthusiasm. Target reported a series of accidents, as well as complications at the cash register, when parents wouldn’t want to pay for all the products that their kids had put in their mini carts. This was causing bottlenecks at the checkout counters.
Target recognized that many customers appreciated the mini carts. But the negative comments from their clientele gained the upper hand, especially on social media. The chain has since removed hundreds of these carts, making this a nightmarish experience, according to Business Insider.
The experience transformed into a controversy when a young mother, Laura Rinas, started a movement, Moms Against Stupid Tiny Carts (MASTC). In a blog post which went viral, she described the carts as ‘weapons of mass destruction’!
“For 10 seconds, I thought this idea was possibly the cutest thing I’d ever seen”, she said. Then, her son filled his cart with useless items from the one-dollar section and amused himself by ramming into the other carts in the store. The young mother had to hunt for him through the candy and toy aisles, comparing the experience to scenes from the film Jurassic Park. The blog got 230,000 views in two months. Some parents were in total disagreement with her statements. They appreciated the mini carts and were sorry they’d been removed.
There are two designs of mini carts on the market: the ‘stand-alone’, which are miniature versions of the adult carts, and the ‘attached’, which are extensions, often in the shape of airplanes or other vehicles, attached at the front of the conventional shopping cart.
The second type doesn’t seem to be a problem, because the parent remains in total control of their navigation.
One manufacturer of these ‘attached’ carts, the American company McCue, claims that their products can boost sales by up to 20%. POTLOC has made numerous requests for an interview to verify this information, but McCue has never responded to our requests.
Finally, the Washington Post reported that each year in the United States, about 24,000 children (66 a day) are victims of accidents, often serious, linked to conventional supermarket carts. The majority of these victims sustained head wounds (notably concussions) following a fall from or tipping over of a cart. Public health authorities have questioned the design of many models of shopping carts now on the market. And they suggest, obviously, to never leave children unattended around carts. This could easily be applied to the miniature version, too…