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Kroger Shopping Carts: A Cautionary Tale About the Bottom Line

Elderly man grasping his head staring at shopping carts.

“People will forget what you said, what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou


I walk across the Kroger parking lot with my shopping cart of groceries. A beautiful day. No particular worries. When suddenly my cart locks up right in the middle of the parking lot. What the…?!

I can’t get it to move and I’m a pedestrian target for oncoming traffic. I jerk it this way and that. Check the wheels. None of them are turned sideways.

Finally, a tall, lanky guy in a beanie cap who looked to be about 12, strolled over and just stared at me. He was my friendly Kroger employee coming to help me.

“My cart won’t move,” I groused.

He stared down at me like I was a simpleton. “The cart won’t move if you cross the lines.”

I look around. “What lines?”

Kroger guy drops his head slightly toward the parking lot macadam. I follow suit. Well, what do you know. There on the black top are two lines about 18 inches apart, running the length of the Kroger parking lot.

“You mean those lines?” I gestured with my foot.

He just stared at me. I know that look. It says, You’re old. I’m young and know more. (Only the first one is true.)

Immediately, I saw the problem. Anybody with a cart who dared to stroll it across the parking lot will have their shopping cart lock up.

I give him the stink eye.

I don’t do well in stupid situations that make no sense. ”How am I supposed to get the cart to my car?”

Kroger guy patiently explains, “If you try to take the cart off of the Kroger parking lot, the cart will lock up.”

Wait. What?

“I’m not taking the cart off the lot! I’m trying to get the cart to my CAR!” I lose all decorum, jabbing my finger in the general direction of a dozen other cars. It was like an Abbott and Costello skit, Who’s on first?

Kroger guy pulls out his Star Trek tricorder, aims it at the cart and presses a button to unlock the cart.

“It’s still locked!” I fumed.

Patiently the Kroger guy explains. “That’s because you’re still standing on the lines.” Is this guy messing with me or what? Why didn’t he tell me that to begin with?

Finally, Kroger guy unlocks the cart and I haul my groceries to my car, still fuming. Then I wheel my empty cart over to the return cart area (because I’m a good citizen). And I stop dead in my tracks.

AAUUGGH! THE LINES! THEY’RE BACK! About four feet from the cart area. I feel like I’m on the highway to hell and there’s no way out. I’m going to have to stroll that cart right over those lines to complete my tour of grocery shopping duty!

I panic. Can I make it to the return cart area before the cart locks up on me?


I’m stuck! People are driving past staring at the crazy elderly white woman who looks like a squawking chicken. Me, I’m nearly weeping with frustration as I try to get the cart out of the line of traffic (because I’m a good citizen).

I do the best I can and hightail it back to my car. What a relief! I made it through my Kroger shopping experience.

Kroger Shopping Carts and The Bean Counters’ Mistake

What, might you ask, does any of this have to do with small business marketing? Plenty.

Kroger had a problem they needed to solve. Every business does. For Kroger, it was people stealing shopping carts.

So a bunch of bean counters got together and said, “If we install anti-theft locking devices on our carts, we’ll save a bundle of money!”

All the other bean counters agreed. And that’s where the Kroger story takes a tragic turn. The bean counters only looked at half of the equation.

They saw a problem and figured out the cost of the problem. Nobody studied the cost of the solution.

Nobody said, “Okay, if we install these anti-lock devices to the carts, how will it impact our customer experience? Will we save money and still allow our customers to have a good shopping experience?”

Looking at only half of the equation will not solve the problem.

Kroger didn’t puzzle through the potential solution, namely, what could be the downside of this solution, and is it worth it?

Nobody asked:

  • How will customers get their carts to their cars without triggering the device?

  • How will this anti-theft device affect a customer’s ability to return their cart to the cart area?

  • If customers can’t return their cart to the designated area, will there be more abandoned carts?

  • Could that inability to return carts possibly result in more accidents?

  • Is this a solution that retains a good customer experience while effectively solving a problem?

  • How do we educate our customers and make the change easier? Hint: One sign placed above eye level on the entrance door warning customers about the anti-theft device doesn’t count.

Customers are angry, and rightly so. It was a half-baked shortsighted solution that focused on a spreadsheet and numbers. Kroger forgot one critical aspect about the bottom line.

Customers are a vital part of it. Exclude them from the equation at your peril. Otherwise, you could create a bigger problem than the original one. Just ask Kroger. Want some guidance with your home page or with your current marketing message? Set up a complimentary 30-minute appointment with me. I’ll give you at least 3 practical tips to get you going in the right direction!

1 Comment

Jeff Bennett
Jeff Bennett
Sep 29, 2023

I’ve altogether stopped shopping at our local Kroger over these stupid carts. Last time I had one lock up I went in to speak with a manager who confirmed “yeah we get a lot of complaints on that…” and I asked “ok, so what do we do about that?” To which he replied they have a tech come around twice a year to do repairs on the system. I suggested that isn’t sufficient at which he replied “I’ll be sure to pass your concern along to corporate”. Duly noted, I’ll take my grocery budget up the road. I will not fight a shopping cart only to be placated by a condescending jerk of a manager who could give a hoot…

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