shopping cart
Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
March 15, 2024 ·  5 min read

The ‘Shopping Cart Theory’ supposedly determines who is a good person and who isn’t

Do you believe that there could be one simple test to determine whether or not someone is a good person? One Twitter user does. He proposed “the shopping cart theory” that determines one’s character based on whether or not they put away their cart at the grocery store. (1)

The Shopping Cart Theory

The shopping cart theory is simple:

If you put your grocery cart away, either back in the store or in the parking lot carousel, after use, despite the fact that you don’t technically have to and there is no penalty if you don’t, you are a kind, considerate person. (1)

On the contrary, if you don’t put your cart away, instead choosing to abandon it in the parking lot for a store employee to collect, you are the opposite. (1)


The Details

When you think about it, the shopping cart theory makes sense. Putting away a shopping cart in its rightful place is something we all agree is a kind or considerate thing to do. Other than extreme emergencies, there are really no situations that make it a bad idea to take the small amount of time required to put away your cart.

That being said, not returning your cart is not illegal, either. It is not required, you won’t be fined or banned from the store or thrown in jail for not putting your cart back. This is what makes it a considerate, selfless act – because you are not required to do it.

This means that those who do always put away their cart are doing it out of the kindness of their own hearts. They put it away because they know that it will make the day of the grocery store employee – a complete stranger – whose job it is to collect the carts much easier.

Essentially, those who do not put their carts away are lazy and care only about themselves.

A Viral Tweet

The theory was posted by a Twitter user named Jared and sparked quite a lot of conversation. The majority of Twitter users agreed. (1)


Twitter user Bekah respond:

“Idk I just feel like as someone who once worked a retail job, I might not be required to put it back but the guy working would really appreciate it so I might as well make someone else’s day easier?? Idk it’s more about respect for the worker and not the unspoken societal law” (1)

To her comment, Twitter user Sam replied:

“i mean yeah that’s the idea. having that level of respect and consideration for a stranger is what makes you a “good member of society”.” (1)

Others claimed that there are good reasons to not return carts that aren’t emergency situations. One user commented:

“A good reason not to return it is if you are alone, with young children, and you are too far from the return to leave your kids alone in the car” (1)

Another user, however, was quick to point out that lots of parents with young children are still able to return their carts and that this isn’t as good of a reason as many want to think that it is. (1)

“Nah that ain’t a good reason. Loads of parents put their carts away with kids. And is it a sin to leave kids in the car for the 30 seconds it takes to return the cart? I get not going into the store but you can see the car the whole time! Come on now.” wrote user Sarah Grace. (1)

Read: The Banana Trick and Other Acts of Self-Checkout Thievery

The Grand Debate

There were some users who claimed that cart retrieval is someone’s job, and they are simply trying to help them keep their job, get more hours, and make more money. Users who had or still work at grocery stores were quick to point out the flaws in these types of arguments.

These users explained that there are no grocery stores that hire someone solely for cart duty. This job is one of the many jobs grocery store employees have to do. It does not give them more hours or make them more money.

In addition, they explained that in the freezing cold, pouring rain, or extreme heat, this job is actually really difficult. It’s much easier for a shopper to take two minutes to return their cart. Compare that to an employee having to deal with an entire Costco parking lot.

This debate is so big, in fact, that there is an entire Twitter account dedicated to it called Cart Narcs. It seems the shopping cart theory is more divisive than one would think.

Is It Ableist?

One Twitter user, Ashlee Boyer, claimed that this was an unfair statement because it doesn’t allow for people with disabilities. (1)

“How about we don’t judge someone’s character based on physical ability? Like, ever? I can see an instance where someone with a chronic condition has a flare up and it’s all they can do to get the cart to their car.” (1)

Many other users questioned this, however. Let’s say someone was able to get a cart, push it around the store, and get back to their car and unload. Why all of a sudden is it too difficult to return the cart? Boyer claimed that flare-ups can happen at any time without warning. This is why sometimes people with chronic pain or illness sometimes can’t. (1)

The general consensus is the post refers to those who have no real reason not to return their cart. It does not refer to those who are physically incapable.

Shopping Cart Theory: The Bottom Line

In general, the consensus seems to be that people who don’t return their grocery carts are lazy, inconsiderate and entitled.

What do you think? Do you believe that the shopping cart theory is an appropriate judge of moral character?

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