It's time for pre-made shopping carts

I walked into a Walmart Neighborhood Market and saw two shopping carts by the entrance. Both packed with groceries. When I looked closer, I saw there were the same items in each cart.

Something strange was going on, and it felt like Guy Fieri might be involved.

file-2And then it made sense. One cart had a sign with Mariano's logo showing a price of $146.96. The other had the Walmart logo and a price tag of $131.94. On a sign behind the carts: You Save $15.02. 

I now understood the purpose of the display, but at that moment a much bigger idea hit me. One that could "revolutionize" the modern-day grocery shopping experience.

The Big Idea

Imagine if grocery stores had pre-made shopping carts. You walk through the doors and waiting for you is everything you were going to buy, already assembled.

No more walking through the aisles. No more stressful searches for the chocolate chips (always a hard one to find. Chocolate chips can't decide if they are candy or baking materials).

Now, you might be thinking this is like Instacart or Mariano's new "ClickList" system where you order online and come to the store to pick up. Why not go with one of those options instead? Or have groceries shipped to your house? Wouldn't the pre-made shopping cart be a step backward?

Here's the difference. The cart is a mix of your list + carefully curated recommendations. Probably eighty percent yours, twenty percent from the staff. Think of it like a bookstore. The staff has put things into your cart that fall under the simple criteria, "Dude, you've got to try this!" The items would come with a handwritten notecard, maybe a recipe, or a suggested pairing.

And it doesn't always have to be a high-class pairing. One notecard might read, "this salmon pairs well with this wine," the other notecard, "these cheese puffs pair well with bagel bites and a Playstation 2."

We're not getting enough variety

We live in an age where there's so much variety, of everything, in all aspects of life. And in some areas, you can see how this has affected people's choices. For instance, if twenty years ago you asked ten people what shows they are watching on TV, you'd get familiar answers. Ask ten people now, it's all over the place. This guy's got some obscure show on Netflix. She's got a show on Hulu. His favorite show is a subtitled web series filmed in Uzbekistan.

Same thing with the impact of craft beers; ten/twenty years ago the answers would have been familiar, Bud, Miller, Guinness, now it's all over the map. Bro, have you tried that new micro-brew?

But, in a lot of areas, the variety hasn't really made an impact. The biggest movies each year are still super hero movies and Star Wars. We have a ton of different political views, but it ends up being a race between two parties. There are a billion websites out there, but I spend 95 percent of my time on Facebook, LinkedIn, Gmail.

Our favorite sports are still football, baseball, basketball. Same as our parents. The Winter Olympics comes in and disrupts with 50 different events, and we get really into it for two weeks, then it's like, "Eh, I need about four years before I can get into curling again."

The grocery store falls into the second camp; ton of variety, but same tried and true routine. Each week my shopping cart pretty much looks the same as the week before.

And don't get me wrong, I want to branch out. I want to do some off-roading. Every time I'm picking up the Oreos or the Chips Ahoy I look at that bag of Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies and think, "Man, I wish I could try those out." But those cookies are way too high class. If I reach for those I feel like it's the equivalent of trying on the Gucci suit or sitting down in the Ferrari; the employees will quickly sprint over, "Woah, woah! Sir, sir. Your cookies are over there."

But if they are already in the cart... whole different story. It's safe in there. You don't have to work up the courage to reach for the trendy yogurt flip cup.


The carts would be kept in a refrigerated room, similar to what you see at a liquor store. Any frozen items you would go up to the desk and they'd go hook you up.

You'd pay a monthly fee for the pre-made shopping carts and that would come with a specific express checkout lane. Or maybe it's like the Amazon system, just push the cart out the door, everything's already been charged.

The program is good for the customer because it saves time, gets the groceries you want, and brings some much needed variety Blue Apron style.

The program is good for the grocery store because it creates loyalty and repeat business. Also, the consistent trying of new stuff would probably expand customers' weekly grocery bill. And it seems like subscriptions are the way to go in today's economy. Look at Netflix, Amazon Prime, and the recent success of the movie theater subscription.

But what about the List Maker

In the first post I talked about the List Maker; the person who walks around with a handwritten list they are actively crossing off. This person doesn't just tolerate the grocery store, they love it. That's their domain. So what about them?

Easy. They become part of the creation process. Come in, get handed a list, go to work. Or maybe not even a list, just a handful of images and they get to organize it all on a piece of paper. Kind of like a scavenger hunt. They would be getting paid as a freelancer to come in and do what they already loved doing; only this time making carts for other people.

I think this idea could bring a greater sense of overall community. You could start having people submit recipes so that in the cart next to the tried and true Digiorno and bag of chicken tenders, there would be the ingredients for Carol's meatloaf. Here's Michael's Kung Pao chicken. Randy, the truck driver, he's got a delicate vanilla Soufflé dessert recipe?? Who knew!

Post reviews, rise up the ranks as the grocery store's top chef. Carol, Michael, Randy, they become local celebrities walking through the grocery store with a Bobby Flay swagger.

So what's next?

This idea is free for the taking. Here's looking at you, Trader Joe's. I feel like this idea has your name written all over it. All I ask in return, for whatever store pilots this out, is that I receive some sort of lifetime frozen pizza and/or Chips Ahoy compensation.

Now let's get these pre-made shopping carts going!

Thank you for reading this grocery store saga. A reminder, post 1 can be found here

Three quick plugs:

  1. If you're looking for a new novel to start the year with, consider giving Toilet Bowl a try. I like to think of it as Casablanca meets Saved by the Bell. It's a story about love, friendship, and how to overcome internal worries and fears. 
  2. I'm not really promoting this one until April or May, but wanted to give you early access to Moving SucksThose familiar with the blog might remember a few of these posts. I turned it all into a "Chicken Nugget", an ebook that's too long for a blog, too short for a book. 
  3. If you're a basketball fan, make sure to check out - Lot of college basketball coverage going up these next 3-4 months + a new Chicago Bulls show that I hope will be as fun to follow as it's been to create.

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See you Monday!

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