Story of the Shopping Cart and the Secret to Spreading Ideas


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The Secret to Spreading Ideas

Have you ever thought of how and when the modern day shopping cart was created?

paper_Shopping BagsThe story of the creation of shopping carts starts with Walter Deubner. He was running an old-style  grocery store was looking for a way to increase his business and observed that his customers’ purchases were limited by what they could conveniently carry home.

So he did what any creative business man do – he created a solution that consisted of a paper bag with a cord running through it for strength. He patented this in 1915.

wire_basketsThe second step in the evolution of the shopping cart was an improvement on the paper bag that Walter had created. These were wire baskets. The challenge with these baskets was that they became heavy when loaded with many items, particularly for women, who did bulk of the shopping. The other challenge was that they would stop buying once the basket was full.

shopping cartThe third and the most interesting step in the evolution of the shopping basket was the pre-cursor to the one that we still use this day. This was a simple creation where there was space for 2 shopping carts (wired) mounted on a wheel driven cart. This was created by Sylvan Goldman, of oklahoma city. He owned a local chain of grocery stores called ‘piggly-wiggly’.

It was not instant success for this shopping cart though..

He then ran into a situation where his elderly customers used his invention but the younger lot would avoid using it. Men thought that it was too feminine for them to use and young women thought it reminded them of baby strollers and would want to do nothing with it.


To help spread the word and increase adoption, he did two things:

  • Ran advertisements in news paper which focused on the problem that women faced while shopping – the hassle of carrying heavy bags..
  • Recruited a set of young people, whose job it was to take the cart and move about in his stores. He would then offer the cart to all his younger customers entering his store and  tell them that this is a convenient way to tell them – Look everyone is using it, why not you.. and the rest as they say is history..

So, what does the story of a shopping cart have to do with spreading ideas?

There are a lot of lessons we can take from this story. Some of them are:

  1. It is not enough to engage the analytical reasoning of your audience to spread ideas, though it is critical for you to do so while actually developing the product, so that it actually solves someone’s problem (Critical that you know exactly the problem that you are trying to solve and for whom).
  2. It is critical that instead of talking about all the reasons why your audience should accept your idea and even spread it, it is better to engage them emotionally.
  3. Humans are social beings. So, if you are trying to spread an idea that is unique and hasn’t been around, it is easier to change behavior when you can show that it is ok for your audience to accept your idea rather than prove to them that they should accept your idea as it is logically the right thing to do.
  4. It is critical that you show empathy in your communication and  let it be all about how your idea can help your audience. It is always about them and not about you..

Now, Consider the following facts about the world that we live in:

  • Our attention spans are getting lower and lower
  • The amount of things that can distract us is growing at an exponential pace
  • In an always connected, always on and always talking world, it is becoming more and more difficult to be heard and even harder to be able to stand out
  • It is getting more and more critical to be able to stand out to spread our ideas.

So, in short, the secret to spreading ideas is to

Change what people feel to change what they do.. 

And you can do that by telling stories about what you do and why should someone care..

If you are in the business of spreading ideas, I strongly recommend that you follow Bernadette Jiwa and her blog “The Story of Telling“.

PS: She was also on my list of 22 insanely interesting people I discovered in 2014. You can find the full list here.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mukesh Gupta
I currently work for SAP as Customer advocate. In this capacity, I am responsible to ensure that the voice of the customer is being heard and play the bridge between customers and SAP. Prior to joining SAP, I have worked with different organizations serving in different functions like customer service, logistics, production planning & sales, marketing and business development functions. I was also the founder-CEO of a start-up called "Innovative Enterprises". The venture was in the retail & distribution business. I blog at


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