The ALDI Shopping Cart Effect

Have you ever had your best intentions blow up in your face? A good deed? A kind gesture? Where instead of the desired outcome suddenly you’re back pedaling, trying to figure what went wrong?

I call it the ALDI Shopping Cart Effect.

The first time I went to an ALDI grocery store was when we moved to Watertown in 2005. Jennifer and I were filling our cart – enjoying shockingly low price points for our young family – when I remembered I left my wallet in the car.

I ran out and found my wallet on the seat. After I locked the car and turned to head back in, I saw a lady nearby who was just about done loading her groceries into her car.

And just like that it hit me. I’m in a new city, I’m called to serve people. Here was an easy chance: offer to return her cart to the store and save her a trip.

Don’t startle her.

Smile big.

“Hi M’am, I’ll take that for you.”

She looks at me, then looks down at her empty cart.

Hesitation.

“Seriously, truth is I’m heading back inside the store anyway.”

She looks back at me. Uneasy. Still not passing the cart off.

This is not going as planned.

As if to help her along, I place a hand on the bin-side of the cart. “I totally got this.”

Finally she lets go with a “Thanks” that sounds way more like a question than a grateful reply.

Trying to shrug off the awkwardness of it all, I walk the cart back to the store and push it into all the other carts. But there’s this weird key-chain thing, and all these slots, and people fumbling with change, and–

I’m getting dizzy.

Everything’s spinning, a blur.

Then it hits me.

OK – so it wasn’t that dramatic. But I’d still stollen that woman’s quarter.

She probably thought I was a strange little chronic cart grabber who lived on the street surviving off quarters; some people ask for change at stop lights, I just take ALDI shopping carts.

Why do they have that quarter mechanism anyway? Are ALDI patrons just far more prone to throwing stainless steel shopping carts in their trunks and peeling out? Like a quarter is really going to overrule that desperate urge. Maybe its not such a safe place to shop with my family after all?

Of course then I had to face my wife which just added insult to injury. But we both got a good laugh out of it. Her more so.

The key to analyzing backfired plans is taking yourself out of the equation and looking purely at the experience of the other person. My wife and I use the phrase, “When you do ________ it makes me feel ________.” This is a successful tool in marriage, in church life, and in business. We can have the best intentions, but if the end experience is not positive for the receiver, intentions become inferior to the issues of the heart.

That, and learn from the mistakes of others.

To this day I still half-expect that lady to jump out at me in the parking lot somewhere and ask for her quarter back.

You’re welcome. ch:

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  • Billy Jepma

    That’s hilarious! Especially I’ve never understood why they do the carts like that. Although, its fun to try and get it out while my Mom shops. ;)

    • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

      “BILLY! Just what do you think you’re doing?”

      “Nothing mom.” [sheepish grin]

    • Billy Jepma

      Funny thing is, I actually got it open one time. Was able to use the key even. I was pretty proud of myself, just haven’t been able to do it since then. Haha,

    • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

      Maybe they found out and blocked keys all because of the infamous Billy Jepma prowling about!

    • Ashley B

      “food” for thought: I had a friend who worked at Kmart back in the day, and he once told me that those grocery carts are like a couple hundred dollars, each. I wonder if Aldi’s does that in order to keep their carts. When I worked at Wegmans, lot of people would walk off with them, and Wegmans actually has a day, like once a month or something, where they send employees to the cart hot spots to recollect them. They’re expensive.

    • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

      I actually remember a friend telling me they were just shy of $1,000 each! I guess in a way it makes sense: stainless steal, all those weld points, heavy duty casters…

  • Meg Plumeau

    The first time I went to Aldi, I wondered the same thing. The worst part is that I didn’t have any change, so I was annoyed that I couldn’t get a cart. I never thought about stealing one like you did Christopher! I bought a few things and then left. After thinking it through, it makes perfect sense. Have you ever had a wobbly, squeaky Aldi cart? There aren’t very many because they never get bumped by cars in the parking lot so they stay in good shape. No Aldi employee has to go out and round up carts so their customers have one to use. They don’t stay out in the rain or snow for long so they don’t rust as quickly. Having us “invest” a quarter saves them money, so it saves us money.

    • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

      “I never thought about stealing one like you did Christopher!”

      Did I mention that? I, ummm, uh…

      Well that’s certainly THE BEST set of logic I’ve ever heard about that quarter mechanism. Well said!

  • Tom Clegg

    We first experienced these types of carts in Germany, where we also first encountered Aldi stores. Funny thing is, the store itself is very much the same across the Atlantic. I think this is just one aspect that simply carried over, they make no money on it, but do save on having to send someone out to collect the carts.
    As for your quarter theft, I have offered to pass my cart off to others after use in the past and have been amazed how insistent people are that I take a quarter from them. Quite embarrassing.
    Peace, Love, and Granolla, Tom

    • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

      So the opposite is true, too? NO WONDER that lady was passively flipping out on me! lol

      All I know is that the brothers that created ALDI are geniuses. And bron again from what I understand. The other brother went on to start the most successful grocery store chain in Switzerland (of course the name eludes me right now).

    • Marty

      The name comes from ALbrecht-DIscount. Karl (*1920) and Theo (*1922 †2010) Albrecht were brothers and started to expand their little grocery stores to a German wide chain. In 1960 they split up the administration: Theo gets Aldi Nord (all the stores north of the Ruhr area), Karl gets Aldi Süd (south), at all they have 300 stores already around that time.
      Over the years, they start to go abroad and even overseas, but never caring about the same country. E.g. USA belongs to Aldi Süd, France to Aldi North.
      They have been the richest Germans living till today, but born again I don’t know ;)

    • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

      What a cool and precise recollection of history. Although I’d expect nothing less for you.

      Yes, a Swiss business man outside Geneva told me one of the brothers was born again, and started the most successful spin off of Aldi in Switzerland, but I can’t recall the name right now…

  • Susie

    My mom is an avid aldis shopper..i go there all the time. Cool tip for serving ppl give someone your cart…a quarter isn’t a lot but I never carry change, half the time I go someone gave me their cart b/c someone gave it to them. kindness has a ripple effect. ;)

    • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

      Nice tip!

  • Abel Larkin

    What a great story! But do you ever notice that unlike Walmart, Price Chopper, and other grocery stores, there are no carts scattered all over the parking lot? And also nobody getting paid minimum wage to wrangle them up and get them back to the store( which I can tell you from experience is a very under-appreciated job). By using this system, they reduce damage to cars and carts, and save on staffing, both translating into lower-priced groceries for me. This makes me happy, even when I forget to bring a quarter or grocery bags to ALDI’s.

    • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

      Man, this is such good logic…I never thought about that. You echoed Meg’s sentiments above.

      And personal experience? Oh do tell! :)

    • Marty

      Ohhh yeaahh!! A German himself couldn’t have stated it clearer!!
      Hey let’s bring this on a total new level of cultural studies. As Ferdinand de Saussure would ask in his semiotic theory of signifier-signified:
      What can a German/American grocery-store-parking-lot tell you about the German/American character??
      German: clean, healthy, money-(staff)-saving, smart = efficient, just like our cars, machines, meals, …
      American: packed with shopping-carts, dangerous to kids and cars, expensive, … = ….. haahahhahahahhaa

      Love “the American” anyways…. =D
      cheers from Germany

    • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

      Ha ha I love it!

      And I was hoping my favorite German would stop by today.

    • Abel Larkin

      There’s not much to tell about my experience. I worked at a grocery store for a while after I graduated high school, doing a lot of grunt work, including pulling in carts. It’s amazing how people can watch you retrieving a train of a dozen or so carts (no easy task to control them, by the way) and still leave theirs right by their car.

  • Tom Clegg

    LOL, I just left ALDI, I couldn’t give my cart away, people just looked past me, then put in their own quarters. Why is this? Do I have too much hair or something?

    • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

      PRECISELY! ;)

  • Rebekah B

    Haha! I always leave my quarter in the slot when I’m done so the next person to walk up gets a free quarter! It is funny how people are so insistent on giving you the quarter if you try to give them your cart for free…it’s a QUARTER people! :)

    • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

      Let’s call them Quartolics!

  • http://melworks.webs.com Melanie Billings

    Great article, CK.

    I love the opportunity to leave a cart for someone when I go to Aldi. Although, this one time, I wheeled it back to the queue, left it unchained (quarter still inside contraption), and saw some guy come plug his cart into it! So much for my good deed. A completely different time, some guy who had just plugged in his cart and got his own quarter back grabbed the one I’d left unplugged, plugged it in and pocketed that quarter, too!

    I do like to just give someone my cart as they are walking up to the store and refuse to take their quarter. That usually works well.
    :) Melanie

    • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

      Thanks Melanie!

      Ha ha, what funny stories. And all that fuss over a quarter! lol

      I’ll follow your advice next time and just give my cart away like that. Seems the safest!

  • Val

    Ron & I say “I’m sure you didn’t mean it like this, but, when you [x], it made me feel like [y].” To us, we’ve discovered it makes a huge difference to verbally state that we believe the other person didn’t intend to cause us harm/anger/frustration. It reminds us that we’re on the same team and also helps the other person lower their barriers to the conversation because they have confidence their side will be heard.

    • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

      “It reminds us that we’re on the same team and also helps the other person lower their barriers to the conversation because they have confidence their side will be heard.”

      Man, you just made my post all the more rich. THANK YOU for that insight.

  • http://www.erinsherman.com Erin S

    This is sooo funny :)
    Hey, made me think of one time that I arrived at ALDI and realized that I didn’t have a quarter to get a cart. So because I had to get a lot of groceries and I had babies/toddlers with me, I couldn’t just go in without a cart. I decided to drive away and thought it was profound that: I had all the money in our bank account, and I even had twenty-five cents in dimes and nickels, but not having one certain coin prevented me from getting what I needed. Spiritualize that for a moment!! heehee :)

    • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

      I was just going to say, there’s a sermon in there somewhere!

  • Mary

    I say put a quarter in the jukebox and dedicate the next song to her…

    Oh wait — they only take dollar bills now. Well, play one anyway and now she’ll owe YOU! Hahaha! (Uhhh. 75cents. That’s three shopping trips.)

    It is interesting though to note how insistent people are about the cart/quarter exchange. I think people have a hard time accepting a “gift of charity” no matter how small. For various reasons I’m sure. Maybe because they don’t want to feel that they owe someone or maybe because they just have a hard time receiving, especially if they’re a “giver” as well… or perhaps more so at an ALDI’s market because unless they’re truly destitute, they’re shopping there to save a few bucs but not because they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. However, by shopping there in the first place, there’s an amount of “stigma” associated with it already that says “Hey, I can’t afford to feed my family therefore I’m shopping at a place that won’t bag my groceries and requires me to bring my own bags and boxes” and with the embarassment that may bring, accepting a quarter from someone who may be even worse off than themselves, just takes the simple random act of kindness out of the charity equation…hence they respond with a polite thank you but no thank you bub – take back your quarter.

    **No offense is meant to any one shopping or trying to steal a cart at Aldi’s. I’d shop there regularly myself if I remembered to….

  • Mom

    I totally relate! Almost did same thing my first time at Aldi! Just keep extra quarters in your pocket. Now I just give my cart to peeps walking in the store.

    • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

      Glad to know I’m not alone!

      That’s super kind of you, too.

  • Mimi

    People at Aldi’s in Belgium always look like they will take you down if you take a step towards their cart……I guess it’s Aldi’s etiquette 101 :-)

    • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

      LOL…I feel a new reality TV series coming on.

  • michael

    I think the quarter has less to do with shopping cart theft (really, what thief is going to be deterred by a quarter?) and more to do with keeping the parking lot free from stray carts left there by people with no incentive to return them to the proper area. I, for one, do not enjoy pulling into a parking lot where stray carts are strewn about, waiting to make a giant dent in my car door. It’s amazing how a quarter can influence people to take those extra steps back to the cart return.

    • Christopher Hopper

      Well said, Michael. I’ve come to the same conclusions now. Thanks for the comment.