Thursday, August 08, 2013

they thought he was off his trolley

The story of the invention of the common or garden shopping trolley can probably be archived as an early commercial behavioural nudge.

One evening, in 1936, Sylvan Goldman, owner of the Piggly Wiggly supermarket chain in Oklahoma City sat in his office crunching the numbers on the days sales and pondered on how he might shift more product.

Legend has it that Piggly wiggly were early pioneers of special offers, twofers and suchlike but none of these on the shelf activations were significantly moving any needles.

As Goldman shuffled his papers and prepared to head for home he had an epiphany as he placed one of his standard hand-held shopping baskets onto a wooden folding chair to clear his way out of the cash office.

With a swift application of gaffer tape the basket was melded to the chair and then a set of wheels screwed to the legs and the idea was born.

The next day Goldman shoed the makeshift trolley to one of his staff, a former mechanic, and the pair set about prototyping a metal framed cart with a two-basket capacity.

Their simple insight became manifest. Simply increasing the size of the the shopper basket would be enough of a nudge to make customers buy more groceries.

The first behavioural conundrum solved, the inventors were then surprised to face a second conundrum.

The device did not catch on immediately, prevailing social norms meant that men found the carts to be effeminate, and women apparently made an association with a baby buggy and resisted.

Not to be deterred Goldman’s next master stroke involved employing a number of male and female stooges to push his new carts around his store to demonstrate their usefulness and manufacture the social proof required to remove the barriers to adoption from his status quo biased customers.

The rest, as they say, is history and after patenting the cart in 1938 Goldman became a multimillionaire.

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