shopping cart theory

Shopping Cart Theory – Are You A Good Person Or Not?

Do you do the ‘right thing’ when nobody is watching? We have rules and regulations to deter people from performing certain actions that are deemed negative by society. What happens if there are no specific laws that prohibit a certain negative action? This brings us to the Shopping Cart Theory that I came across online.

What Is The Shopping Cart Theory?

4chan shopping cart theory

Source: Imgur

The Shopping Cart Theory first appeared on 4chan in 2020.

Summary Of Shopping Cart Theory

  • It is a test to see if a person can do the right thing when not forced to
  • Returning a shopping cart is objectively the right thing to do
  • Unless there is an emergency, there is no reason why one should not return the shopping carts
  • There is no punishment if you decide not to return the shopping cart to the appropriate area
  • You gain nothing by returning the shopping cart
  • Someone who doesn’t return their trolley is no better than an animal
  • Return = good person
  • Don’t return = bad person

In Singapore, we do have a direct benefit from returning the shopping carts as there is a deposit system. The reason why we have the deposit system is to encourage the return of shopping carts.

Besides shopping carts, another example that can apply to the Shopping Cart Theory would be the hawker food trays before 1 September 2021. We cannot be trusted to do the right thing so from 1 September 2021 onwards, it would be an offence to leave behind food trays or litter after eating.

Why Do People Return Shopping Carts?

It is just the right thing to do. Mostly these people do not inconvenience other people like the staff and other shoppers. The staff would have to go around collecting the abandoned carts while other shoppers might have difficulty finding a shopping cart if a lot of these carts are not at the original place. The shopping carts might also be blocking the parking space

If there is a deposit system, the user would want to get back their dollar after using the shopping cart.

Of course, some people return the carts to prevent being judged or cancelled if there are other people around.

Why Do People Not Return Shopping Carts?

These people value their own time and effort over others. Some reasons they gave are

  • Return receptacle is too far away
  • Bad weather
  • Disability
  • Someone else’s job
  • Doing a favour for the next user as the cart can be easily accessed

While doing my research, I see some people giving lousy excuses of giving the staff a job or giving them a “break” when they get to go out and collect the abandoned shopping carts. These excuses help them rationalize leaving the shopping carts wherever, turning a negative deed into a positive deed in their mind. Not returning your shopping carts does not only inconvenience other people but also wastes resources.

There is also the emergency excuse mentioned in the Shopping Cart Theory. Let’s be honest with ourselves, how many emergencies can happen to an individual every time they need to return their shopping carts?

5 Types Of Shopping Cart Users

From a Scientific American article, shopping cart users can be mainly classified into 5 groups.

  1. Returners who always return the shopping carts to the receptacle
  2. Never Returners who never return their shopping carts
  3. Convenience Returners who only return their shopping carts if it is convenient
  4. Pressure Returners who will return the shopping carts if there are other people around
  5. Child-Driven Returners who treat it as a game as it is fun for their child

From these 5 categories, we can see that it is not so straightforward to determine whether you are a good or bad person based on your shopping cart actions.

Are You A Good Or A Bad Person?

I would say that using savagery or animal to describe people who do not return their trolleys would be a bit exaggerated. One bad action shouldn’t determine whether you are a good or bad person. It also doesn’t take into account that you might learn your lesson and start doing the right thing. Cancel culture likes to place judgement on someone with minimal chance of redemption and it can be difficult to come back from there.

But if you don’t return your shopping cart consistently, even after you know that you are directly affecting other people, I would say that you are a bad person who doesn’t care about other people. There are no surveys done specifically but I predict that there is an overlap with people who consistently litter and people who do not return their shopping carts.

Even if you return the trolley, it doesn’t mean that you are a good person. In an era where you can get cancelled just like that, it keeps people in check where being cancelled can directly severely affect their relationships or job security. Even without a cancel culture, the reason some people return shopping carts is the fear of being judged if they get caught, not because it is the right thing to do.

The Shopping Cart Theory is just a thought-provoking theory that shed some light on the actions of people who do not return their shopping carts. It cannot be used as a definitive test to see whether someone is a good or bad person.

Do We Really Need Laws For Everything?

Singapore is famous for being a ‘fine’ city. After implementing a law from clearing trays, will shopping cart abandonment grow into such a big problem that a law will be enacted specifically for this problem? It is quite sad that we need laws to help guide humanity’s actions as we cannot be trusted to do the right thing.

I previously wrote an article on trolley abandonment and how it wastes resources. It costs FairPrice S$150,000 a year to collect and replace abandoned trolleys.

Besides laws and fines, we will need to educate the public on doing the right thing by returning their shopping carts. It will be hard to change the mindset of some adults so we should focus on children so they grow up with a civic mindset and they can also set an example for their future children.


The Shopping Cart Theory attempts to determine if you are a good or bad person depending on what you do with your shopping cart at the end of your shopping session. It is not so straightforward as there can be some nuances. Besides implementing laws, we should start educating since young on responsibility and civic-mindedness. We shouldn’t fully depend on laws to hope people do the right thing.

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