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Getting a Handle on Sales: Shopping Carts Affect Purchasing by Activating Arm Muscles

Getting a Handle on Sales: Shopping Carts Affect Purchasing by Activating Arm Muscles

Zachary Estes and Mathias C. Streicher

Retailers take notice! The standard shopping carts in stores are probably dampening sales because the handles literally cause shoppers to flex the wrong shopping muscles.
 
The standard shopping cart used around the world has a horizontal handlebar. Ergonomically, pushing a horizontal handlebar activates the triceps muscles of the arm. This is important because prior research in psychology has shown that triceps activation is associated with rejecting things we do not like, such as when we push or hold something away from us. On the other hand, biceps activation is associated with things we do like, such as when we pull or hold something close to our body. 
 
A new Journal of Marketing study shows that because the horizontal handlebar on a standard shopping cart activates the triceps muscles, standard shopping carts constrain buying. Our research team compared shopping with the standard cart to shopping with a new cart that we designed. Instead of a horizontal handlebar, our new shopping cart has parallel handles, like on a wheelbarrow or a walker for elderly people. These parallel handles activate the biceps muscles instead of the triceps. And since the biceps are associated with things we like, we reasoned that these handles may increase purchasing and spending. We conducted an experiment in a supermarket and, indeed, although shoppers found our new cart to be unusual, they ended up buying more products and spending more money. 
 
Some shops have recently introduced shopping carts with vertical handles, like those on a mountain bike. Although those vertical handles may look and feel different from the standard horizontal handlebar, when we recorded people’s muscle activity while they pushed these shopping carts, we found that horizontal and vertical handles both activate the triceps. We then conducted another experiment comparing our parallel handles to those vertical handles and once again people bought and spent more with the parallel handles. 
 
These results show that standard shopping carts may constrain buying. For retailers, this means missed sales and profits. Shops could increase sales by using an alternative shopping cart with parallel handles. For consumers, awareness of how you use your shopping muscles may come in handy as the holiday season approaches. To minimize shopping trips and buy many gifts in one go, flex those biceps to pull things into your cart. Or to minimize spending, flex your triceps to keep unnecessary purchases out of your cart.

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From: Zachary Estes and Mathias Streicher, “Getting a Handle on Sales: Shopping Carts Affect Purchasing by Activating Arm Muscles,” Journal of Marketing.

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Zachary Estes is Professor of Marketing, City University of London, UK.

Mathias C. Streicher is Assistant Professor, University of Innsbruck, Austria.