Ditch the Basket for the Cart

A walk down the aisle of a supermarket is nothing less than going up and down an emotional roller coaster. The highs of looking at a mouth-watering chocolate cake with the lows of the price tag that comes with it.  The tug of war between the wants (junk, junk and more junk) and needs (healthy stuff) linger till I stride out of the store with bushels of unjustified items. So what do I do to reduce this pleasure vs. pain saga???? I pick up a basket!!! It not only makes me feel like I’ll shop more responsibly (well, at least I thought so) but also gives me the feel of a teeny workout.

Indeed, there’s a difference between choosing a cart and a basket: One helps you make healthier choices, while the other can lead you to stock up on vices. A  wild  guess of the wiser bet? “The basket” seems like an obvious response. Surprise Surprise!!!  A recent study published in the Journal of Marketing Research  found using a cart is better for your health than using a basket.

According to researchers, using a basket, “Leads to a preference for vices over virtues and for smaller, earlier rewards over larger, later monetary rewards. When you flex your arm toward you (as you would when putting something in a basket), you think of it as a treat, whereas when you flex your arm away from you (as you do when putting something in a cart), it serves a less personal purpose. It’s a process they call embodied myopia.

The researchers demonstrated that arm flexor contraction makes individuals more likely to choose immediately pleasing options.” Also the tension and strain of carrying a basket is likely to induce the shopper to seek immediate gratification and make unhealthy, wasteful purchases.

I find this downright backwards. I always thought big carts leave more room for oodles of junk food, while tiny baskets to lug around only have enough space for the healthy essentials. But apparently the research proves me all wrong. Researchers found shoppers were three times as likely to choose unhealthy items over healthy ones if they carried a basket And for most participants in the study, the immediately pleasing option they chose was chocolate. (Although I am still recovering from the anguish of being tricked by the petite, innocent looking basket, I absolutely love the thought of rewarding myself with a bar of chocolate, for every basket I carry :P)

Now the point of me choosing this topic for the blog is not to convince all my dear readers to pick up a cart for two items. That’s definitely going to do no good to your pockets or your health. But maybe this piece of information will help you become more aware, as consumers, of what you’re putting in your basket and why.

Another interesting thing to ponder upon – If our mind and body are connected in a way, that the impulse buying of unhealthy snacks is related to instant gratification, due to the strain caused, then can this be correlated to the fact that marketers selling junk food are more likely to do better in places where people are involved in some kind of physical activity???  Like a desert shop or supermarket close to a gym a fastfood joint outside a nightclub, close to railway stations???  Logically may not seem feasible, but isn’t consumer psychology all about defying all logic?????



  1. You found a cool study, it is very interesting, but I am still skeptical. I cannot belief that pushing a cart versus carrying a basket would influence my purchases. It is hard to imagine that small nuances like these arm movements create such a dramatic shift in my purchasing behavior. The only thing I could imagine is that I can hide the unhealthy things better in a basket than in a cart. In a basket I can put the chocolate bars first and hide them with some bananas or other healthier stuff. In this way I pretend to buy healthy things. In a cart I have better overview over the things I already bought and sometimes simply seeing things again makes me rethink about the decision. However, because of my own experiences I think or better I know that a cart encourages more impulse shopping. Because I don’t need to carry the food, I often decide to buy more than I before intended to do. With a cart I am more likely to buy ahead for the rest of the week. We all know the end of the story, when we buy an amount of chocolate, which should last for the rest of the week. At the latest in two days, there is nothing left. So in a way, pushing a cart even encourages me buying more unhealthy stuff;)

  2. This is a really interesting study. I can rationally see why this research makes sense. Holding a basket feels like more of a work out that pushing a trolley, so buying the unhealthy food with a basket is a reward for using all the muscles. The amount of food you fit in a basket versus a trolley is relatively small, so the amount of time you have to live off the shopping for is different. A trolley means you are shopping for a serious type of food and amount of food, whereas a basket usually indicates you need a few items, so you just browse (potentially doing more impulse buying). If I go shopping for the week I may sneak in a few unhealthy things but the number of unhealthy things is small in comparison to the rest of the shopping. However, if I just go out for milk and bread but come back with a few unhealthy items then they are going to seem like a large proportion of my shopping.

    I like this research, and actually can understand the logic behind it.

  3. What an interesting article! I knew we were lazy but not quite that lazy! Perhaps another explanation for the baskets making us pick up unhealthy food is not just because we feel like we deserve a treat but when you push a trolly around you can see what you have picked up you have to spend the whole trip around the shop thinking about what you are about to spend your money on and that diet you said you want to carry out. The constant feedback of what your buying in front of you could make you alter your behaviour. Similarly you rush around with your basket in hand in a ‘hot’ state, but when you get a trolly your not normally in such a hurry and in a ‘cold’ state.

  4. Thats a cool study, from personal experience i know that when i take a basket im getting junk food, actually same is true when i take a cart or just use my hands, i pile the junk food in 😛

    I wish i found this blog last week when I was writing my intervention, it was all about how profitable baskets could be for supermarkets. After always going to Tescos and them not having any baskets available i wanted to prove how much they were missing out on. This article would have been perfect!

    It makes sense with what my argument was however, if a person has a basket instead of just using their hands (my target subjects) they are going to spend more. We love our impulse buys in supermarkets, and when the basket is available and we only go in for 1 or two things it will act, (in my words) as a capacity anchor, or in wansinks words an environmental cue which will signal to the shopper they havent finished yet. When they pick up the two items they wanted, the empty basket it screaming for them to spend more!

    Really enjoyed the blog, but it wont stop me from buying junk food… Its how i survive.

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