The IDEO shopping cart (1998) wasn’t a failure, the concept was just ahead of its time

I remember writing a blog post about another IDEO concept: Shimano Coasting. Their concept was supposed to make cycling attractive for the masses, but it eventually got dropped, what led my to question about the possible reasons for this failure. This post, is about a well-documented IDEO case: a shopping cart developped in 1998, that obviously didn’t make it to the stores… or did it? Actually it did, it just has been picked up more than a decade later, and it’s being rolled out here in France. Not by IDEO.


Via Smithsonian Institution (click to see more)

If you watched the video, you easily understand what their concept was all about: safety for kids, modularity while shopping, easy handling and facilitated check-out. Even though the concept seems appealing to people in stores (see the end of the video), it hasn’t appeared in any store on a large scale at all. “It needs a little refining, but I thing it’s great, says the saleswoman from Whole Foods in the video, we would want them!“.

But why didn’t anyone use them on the large scale? I found a blog post and even a question on Quora that ask ‘What happened to the IDEO shopping cart?‘. Yann Gourvennec argues on his blog that the target clients of this concept might not have been well-defined: shoppers? Retail stores? I think it’s was a communication initiative and that there was no real market demand for it . After all, it has been commissioned by the TV-channel ABC for its show The Deep Dive, and not by an actual retailer… In the post’s comments, Yann Gourvennec says:



And indeed, similar shopping carts are currently being rolled out in some French supermarkets. Carrefour, the world second-largest retail chain, is on a quest of ‘reinventing the supermarket’ (see this article [French]), and design is a major constituent of their strategy.

This is why they hired the former VP of design of sports giant Decathlon, now Oxylane, where he did a remarquable job in both innovation and branding (read Carrefour’s Global VP of Design about branding, design and innovation). The new carts that Carrefour uses today don’t come from IDEO, who patented them, but they are basically like the IDEO concept. These are the carts that they have at my local Carrefour Market:


After a little bit of research, I found that these were designed and produced by the Italian company Plastimark, who started selling them in 2002. “First [Carrefour’s] customers were baffled by Plastimark carts, but they immediately loved them” we can read on their promotional material. I think they’re ugly, but they’re damn good to navigate in the narrow isles of city-stores, and they’re 100% recyclable. Plastimark also says that they’re less costly since they don’t break as often as current carts – cost effectiveness was also an advantage of IDEO ‘s concept.

I never thought I would make an entire blog post about shopping carts, but the point is: IDEO had the right idea back in 1998, they were just ahead of their time. The very same concept appears today, and seems that it makes sense for shoppers. Retailers also roll-out self-scanning devices which have an ever-growing acceptance in supermarkets, that’s why I thing IDEO’s concept was visionary and I wouldn’t describe its non-adoption as a failure (even though commercially it probably was one). And who knows, maybe one day a majority of bikes will be similar to the Coasting concept !?


Edit (January 28th): Thank you Barry, who shared an interesting link from designboom: “The (all american) history of shopping (carts)“. An interesting article with lots of illustration As Barry says:

Some things never change!


  1. nice post. And thanks for following up on my own work on the subject. I will add links from my blog. Keep up the good work.

    Ps : please note that can be configured so that the “accueil” button would be in English as well as all other menus.


  2. […] Happy October 1st, time really does fly! Today I took the time to continue some research and look back at my biweekly feedback and accomplish those goals. Linked below are two articles that Mrs. VanEtten provided for me as a resource. The first one is an article about a reimagined shopping cart! It is so interesting how there are so many unique ideas for such a simple concept as the article is nothing close to what I had in mind! It was interesting to read through and see the problems that this cart could be a solution for. The second article relooked at this concept and asked why it wasn’t seen in stores. The problem was that there are no real market demand for them and who were the target audience for its use? Again, these articles made me reconsider my idea and ask myself what exaclty am I trying to accomplish? For now, I will continue down the path of research into magnets and levitation.… […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s