News Release

Showing some shopping muscle: How retail cart design affects buying behavior

News from the Journal of Marketing

Peer-Reviewed Publication

American Marketing Association

Researchers from City University of London and University of Innsbruck published a new paper in the Journal of Marketing that examines how different shopping cart designs activate shoppers’ muscles and result in different purchase outcomes. The study, forthcoming in the Journal of Marketing, is titled “Getting a Handle on Sales: Shopping Carts Affect Purchasing by Activating Arm Muscles” and is authored by Zachary Estes and Mathias 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. 
Estes explains that “We reasoned that a shopping cart that activates the biceps muscles may increase purchasing. Instead of a horizontal handlebar, we designed a new shopping cart with parallel handles, like on a wheelbarrow or a walker for elderly people. The parallel handles activate the biceps muscles instead of the triceps. Experiments we conducted in a supermarket demonstrate that although shoppers found the 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, ergonomically, horizontal and vertical handles both activate the triceps. The researchers conducted another experiment comparing parallel handles to 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,” says Streicher. 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.

Full article and author contact information available at:

About the Journal of Marketing 

The Journal of Marketing develops and disseminates knowledge about real-world marketing questions useful to scholars, educators, managers, policy makers, consumers, and other societal stakeholders around the world. Published by the American Marketing Association since its founding in 1936, JM has played a significant role in shaping the content and boundaries of the marketing discipline. Christine Moorman (T. Austin Finch, Sr. Professor of Business Administration at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University) serves as the current Editor in Chief.

About the American Marketing Association (AMA) 

As the largest chapter-based marketing association in the world, the AMA is trusted by marketing and sales professionals to help them discover what is coming next in the industry. The AMA has a community of local chapters in more than 70 cities and 350 college campuses throughout North America. The AMA is home to award-winning content, PCM® professional certification, premiere academic journals, and industry-leading training events and conferences.

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