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Friday, August 12, 2005

Photo Friday (Vol. XX*XVII) [shopping cart edition]

I know, I know... boooooring!  But this is something that is so simple that I've been fascinated with it ever since moving here.

Every trip to the grocery store in the US starts with navigating your car through the obstacle course caused by countless shopping carts blocking nearly every parking spot.  The problem is that once a person has loaded their purchases into their car, there is no incentive to return the shopping cart. 

So, to make sure that there are carts available near the entrance to the stores,the owners are forced to hire 'Cart Cowboys' to constantly herd the carts back into their 'corral'.  This costs money... which increases overhead... which is added onto the cost of every item the customer puts in their cart!

The first time I went to an Israeli grocery store I went to take a cart out of the corral and was stopped in my tracks.  The carts were chained together with some sort of locking device. 


Someone waiting behind me to take a cart noticed my confusion and rather than explain the solution simply pulled a 5 shekel coin from his pocket (worth about $1.20 these days)... inserted it into the slot.... and pulled the cart free. 

OK, I'll admit that the person probably wasn't trying to be instructive or helpful... he was probably just in a hurry.  But the lessen was learned, and I pulled out a 5 shekel coin fof my own and put it in the slot of the next cart:

... and pulled it free.  Once the chain holding the carts together is released, the coin is locked in the slot and can't be removed until the cart is nested inside another with the metal tongue on the end of the chain inserted in the back of the lock:

Whoever thought up this nifty cart-lock anticipated the Israeli penchant for finding shortcuts around obstacles.  I know this because I spent several minutes trying to figure out if there might be a way to beat the system.  In the end I concluded that the chain was just short enough so you couldn't insert the tongue of a cart in its own lock... and there is no way to maneuver another shopping cart close enough to use its metal tongue unless the carts were nested fully inside each other (impossible if there are groceries in both carts.

The end result is that shoppers have a powerful incentive to return the cart to the corral... after all, 5 shekels is real money!    The only way around having to come up with a 5 shekel deposit is a special tool that some vendors give out as promotional items.  Not only do they help solve the problem of not having the right coin in your pocket at all times, but they ensure that you have someone's brand name and contact info on your key ring at all times!  They look like this:

I got this one from the salon where several of us get our haircuts (Lydia's in Jerusalem), but there are literally thousands of different versions out there attached to countless Israeli key rings. 

The round end of the fob (for lack of a better word) is exactly the same size as a 5 shekel coin, so it is perfect to release a cart from its neighbor.  And, because it gets locked in place when the carts are pulled apart, it is a convenient and secure place for your keys while you shop.  But, if you want your keys back after laoding up the car... you need to bring the cart back to the corral!


I doubt this would ever catch on in the states... mostly because the largest coin that people normally have in their pockets is a quarter, and most people I know would be willing to walk away from a quarter to avoid returning a shopping cart in the rain.  And if one were to develop a cart lock that required 4 or 5 quarters you run into the problem that most people don't normally walk around with a buck-twenty-five in their pocket/purse.

Just one more interesting and helpful factoid about Israel.  Don't thank me... I'm a giver.  :-)

Shabbat Shalom!

Posted by David Bogner on August 12, 2005 | Permalink


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Sorry for being the party pooper once more ;) [yeah, like you know I am not sorry]
It's amusing that this actually was new to you - here, it is a given since at least ten years or so; I may be wrong, but they came up with it also to decrease the number of stolen carts (people used to take their shoppings home in these and then abandoned them in their neighbourhood). Finally, haleluh, something we have ahead of Americans!

Posted by: mademoiselle a. | Aug 12, 2005 1:31:11 PM

You know -- now I can tell something about your shopping preferences...

But actually, I never thought the reason for the deposit was because of stray carts in the parking lot, but rather because people might simply walk away with them to their homes. At least that was the concern in the States. I remember in San Francisco the parking lot had some kind of device that locked the wheels before the cart could leave the lock.

In our shul we sometimes have a problem of kids bringing inside toy baby carriages, and the like, and they cause not a small amount of noise. I've often wondered if we could get one of those devices that would cause the wheels to lock up before they can get inside...

Posted by: Dave | Aug 12, 2005 1:34:36 PM

They do have that in the US at warehouse stores like Costco. Also, I suspect it's more because of theft, because, while there are those (like several of my floormates my freshman year of college) in the US who steal shopping carts, I suspect many more Israelis would be willing to and do.

Posted by: amechad | Aug 12, 2005 1:36:17 PM

...p.b. I recently lost my token :(
We have stick versions of this keychain thingie (supermarkets etc. once gave them as incentives), where the token can be removed. Quite smart, as this is less noisy than having a whole keychain dingle-dangle from the cart.

Unfortunately, I traded my cart at the large parking ("we" do this here, to save us the way to the cart stalls at large parking lots). Only later I recalled that I had just traded the plastic token for a Euro (the cart systems accept tokens, 50 cents or 1 Euro...or a 10 or 5 NIS coin, or 10 old Francs...some Peruvian coins as well and Italian coins too. See, this system is really so cosmopolitan, much different than the lockers at the university library.)

Posted by: mademoiselle a. | Aug 12, 2005 1:41:50 PM

Ditto. Price Club in Gaithersburg, Maryland, has been using this device for around a decade.

Posted by: Natan | Aug 12, 2005 1:42:46 PM

This coin system is quite common in America for a while already. I recall seeing it in many places in NY. There they use a quarter. The wheel locking mechanism that Dave mentioned is actually used at the big supermarket in Talpiot on Pierre Koenig (Zol Po?).

Posted by: The Hedyot | Aug 12, 2005 1:55:39 PM

By the way, another trick that people use is an old key. The round part of most keys is just about the right size to substitute for a 5 shekel coin.

Posted by: The Hedyot | Aug 12, 2005 1:56:45 PM

I was once one of those cart stealers!! I had a pet rabbit for about 1 week and didn't want to invest in a proper rabbit cage until I knew that the relationship would last, (it didn't). The rabbit went on to live in a much nicer environment I'm sure.

p.s.-Natan, let's be honest, I live in Gaithersburg, Md and I shop at the Costco there also, and I never saw this cart lock system before. You don't have to lie to be cool. I'm sure David would like you even if you never heard of it before :o)

Posted by: ac | Aug 12, 2005 1:57:30 PM

Hi David. Actually, the Aldi's grocery store chain here in the states has the kind of carts you describe. I don't know how long they've had those carts, though.

Posted by: Nathan | Aug 12, 2005 2:02:34 PM

An American quarter is about the same size as an Israeli 5-Sheqel coin.

I'd always miss a quarter or two when exchanging money, so this is how i made use of my otherwise useless quarter(s) while i was in Israel!

Posted by: Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) | Aug 12, 2005 2:03:25 PM

mademoiselle a. ... Saying that was like waving a red flag at a bull, you know! Americans don't like being told they are second at anything (I should know!). However, I doubt it would be very effective as an anti-theft device since whatever deposit the cart system requires is actually a tiny fraction of the actual value of the cart. Also, if there are devices readily available that can be used in place of money it becomes that much easier to steal them. No... I think this is simply a very smart system for forcing people to do the right thing (or at least pay for the privilege of not doing the right thing.

Dave... And what would that be? Also, if your intention is to walk away with a cart... such a trivial amount wouldn't really deter you (even if you were homeless!).

Amechad... I don't follow your reasoning. If Israelis were inclined to steal the carts... why isn't it happening?

Nathan... As I said, I don't know anyone who wouldn't walk away from a quarter if they were in a hurry or faced with inclement weather. But a buck and a quarter makes you stop and think, no?

The Hedyot... As I said to Nathan, I don't think a single quarter would be very effective. Also, who walks around with old keys in their pockets on a regular basis???

ac... Now, now... I have no reason to doubt Nathan's word. Perhaps one of you is confused about which store is using the system. I would be curious to hear a report of its effectiveness, though.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg)... so you would make a point of walking around with quarters just so as not to have to return the cart??? I guess that is your prerogative, but it seems awfully unsporting. It's not like the cart-bandits at the US airports that take $1.50 and up for a luggage cart and you don't get the money back!

Posted by: David | Aug 12, 2005 2:14:48 PM

yup, had it here in Canada for years. In fact I recall some American director or actor making fun of us for having it. But damn I wish I had me a handy keyring thing to get around the need for the coin!

Posted by: celestial blue | Aug 12, 2005 2:21:42 PM

Fascinating!... at least I won’t have to keep on asking what this and that is (assuming the use of appropriate technology such as this is rampant ) when I do visit Israel.

Shabbat Shalom

Posted by: kakarizz | Aug 12, 2005 2:22:58 PM

Such a good idea. Some airports have luggage carts that use this basic principle, where you have to put money in the corral itself to get a cart. Back when I still checked baggage it was about $1.25, so it's probably at least twice that now.

I trust there was no one behind you this time, waiting for you to finish with the pictures so they could get a cart? ;o)

Posted by: Tanya | Aug 12, 2005 2:25:29 PM

Celestial... What is the value of the coin needed to get the cart in Canada? And more importantly, do you feel it is valuable enough to keep you from walking away from the cart in the rain? Just curious.

Kakarizz... That's the spirit! Nice to hear you using the word 'when' instead of 'if'. :-)

Posted by: David | Aug 12, 2005 2:26:04 PM

Ah, I proofread too long...

(After a tiny bit of googling to make up for my gaffe, SmarteCarte rental at LAX was $3.00 in 2002. Your useless trivia of the day.)

Posted by: Tanya | Aug 12, 2005 2:31:43 PM

Tanya... And you don't get any of that money back... so there is no incentive to return the cart! The airport cart 'tax' is just another way to rip-off a captive audience for a product they need.

Posted by: David | Aug 12, 2005 2:47:57 PM

Norway and Sweden are on board as well! And with the little key chains with a token in the correct size. The Mercedes dealership even hands out key chains with the Mercedes symbol that fits in the carts. Because, really, who can ever find 10 kroner when you really need it...?

Posted by: nrg | Aug 12, 2005 2:51:04 PM

nrg... 10 Norwegian kroner is over 7 shekels, so that makes sense to me... at least as far as my theory about why the system is in place. If one were inclined to steal a cart 10 kroner would be a bargain compared to the cart's true value. Thanks for lending the Scandinavian perspective.

Posted by: David | Aug 12, 2005 2:57:46 PM

Let's just say I can see your shopping is more on the mega-size and less on the petite...

Posted by: Dave | Aug 12, 2005 3:10:19 PM

Foreigners are simply adorable at times, it is indeed cute that Americans didn't know of this system! They are also fascinated w our ATM machines bcs we can pay bills throught hem, book tickets etc. We can also have bills automatically paid every month through the bank - oh, and we were the first country to institute public transportation passes! Nice of you to remind me not eveything here is bleak, I've been sorely in need of it as my country goes up in flames.

And thank you again for reminding me it's Friday, it could have been disastrous otherwise. Picture me showing up for Kabbalat Shabbat tomorrow. (I'm sure Loverboy would have saved the day but still...) Shabbat Salom!

Posted by: Lioness | Aug 12, 2005 4:23:42 PM

Oh sorry, forgot to add, we have both 1 Euro or 50 cents, or just the 50 cents option.

Posted by: Lioness | Aug 12, 2005 4:25:22 PM

"There's a guy limping around the store staring at the carts. It's kinda freaking me out. He took some pictures of them too. I think he might be staking out our security. He smells of Eagle Rare bourbon and he's got a gun!"

Shabbat shalom. I hope you're feeling better.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Aug 12, 2005 4:34:58 PM

Dave... I do support the local economy (especially considering the owner of petite is my neighbor), but there are so many items in the Efrat supermarkets that are marked up by almost 100% (as compared to what 'mega' in Talpiot charges) that we try to do a big shopping in Jerusalem for these things at least once a month. Nice catch, though. :-)

Lioness... It is a sign of my deep esteem for you that I find such condescension endearing! :-) Seriously, the US is behind the technological curve on many things besides the few you mentioned (although they do have the ability to set up bill payments through the bank). Take cellular technology for instance. The US inexplicably 'bet the farm' on what turned out to be the Beta Max of cellular technology... so they are the odd man out when it comes to being compatible with the rest of the world. :-) Hope you guys get a break from your drought conditions and that the fires abate.

Doctor Bean... I usually hang up my shootin' irons (or check them with the sheriff) before heading over to the saloon. Shabbat Shalom yourself. :-)

Posted by: David | Aug 12, 2005 4:56:53 PM

I'm pretty sure you used to get part of it back from SmarteCarte. Like 50¢ of your $1.50 or something. It really has been at least six years since I used one, so maybe you don't anymore.

"He smells of Eagle Rare bourbon and he's got a gun!"

And chicken livers!!

Posted by: Tanya | Aug 12, 2005 4:59:51 PM

Oh I toned down the condescending bit, the first draft was much worse! ;) Then why oh why do I keep reading abt people being behind on their bills and having to spend their evening writing cheques? Maybe the news haven't travelled? Oh well. Will go off ans smirk some more now. Carry on!

Posted by: Lioness | Aug 12, 2005 5:33:05 PM

Tanya... I'm unclear on something here... are you saying I have chicken livers or that I smell like them. ;-)

Lioness... Just because a convenience exists doesn't mean people avail themselves of it. There are still many many people who spend their days (and evenings) barking their shins on the sharp-edged coffee table of technology.

Posted by: David | Aug 12, 2005 5:46:07 PM


The big concern that many people have with paying bills online is a fear of identity theft.

Posted by: Jack | Aug 12, 2005 5:58:45 PM

Wonders will never cease- 27 comments and not a single indignant Brit protesting that we've also had this system in place for years? I guess everyone's watching the cricket...

(A pound coin, if I recall correctly. And no local charities/business had yet cottoned on to the idea of multi-purpose keyrings last time I was in Tescos)

Posted by: PurpleParrot | Aug 12, 2005 6:00:26 PM

I wasn't being critical of you shopping outside Efrat, just noticing that you had.

Although I was somehow expecting you'd be shopping at the big Mega near Kiryat Gat, not shlepping all the way into Talpiot...

Posted by: Dave | Aug 12, 2005 6:09:06 PM

Just wanted to say that I found this fascinating. I think it sounds like a good system, but it is sad that such systems are needed (and they are most certainly needed in more places). Someday we'll talk about "the good old days" when you didn't need a coin or a token to use a shopping cart at the grocery store.

Posted by: Susan | Aug 12, 2005 6:15:34 PM

Jack... Bill payments that are set up directly through the bank's encrypted web site are among the most secure transactions possible. I know that doesn't take care of people who are afraid of ANY online transaction... but if your own bank isn't a trusted vendor... then I don't know who is.

Purple Parrot... Good to hear, especially as a pound coin supports my theory that it is more about just getting the people to return the cart to the rack and not about preventing theft.

Dave... I drive home via Route 60 (derech Hevron) so Kiryat Gat doesn't help me. However, there is a huge mega right near my office in Beer Sheva to which I sometimes go.

Susan... I think that in the good old days people just left the carts where they finished with them and they were magically collected by the cart cowboys. With large superstores making smaller stores examine their prices very closely, being able to cut overhead with such a system makes sense. On the end user part of the equation, I am assured a cart next to the door when I need one... and the prices inside the store reflect the lower overhead. In this case THESE might be the good old days.

Posted by: David | Aug 12, 2005 6:24:48 PM

Actually, the Aldi's grocery store chain here in the states has the kind of carts you describe. I don't know how long they've had those carts, though. --> well....? Aldi is a German supermarket chain. Haha.

However, I doubt it would be very effective as an anti-theft device since whatever deposit the cart system requires is actually a tiny fraction of the actual value of the cart.
Well, a plastic bag comes at 15 Eurocent, a paper bag at 20, and a fabric tote at 50 Eurocent to 1 Euro. I guess that sales argument is strong enough. Whoever keeps on stealing the carts is really too stupid (well, even if it is to host a rabbit). Apart from that, though, I've been seeing less abandoned carts.

Posted by: mademoiselle a. | Aug 12, 2005 6:29:21 PM

Ooops. Bad tag! Sit! Good tag.

Posted by: mademoiselle a. | Aug 12, 2005 6:30:03 PM

Mademoiselle - I carry tag treats in my pocket to make them behave. ;)

David - The existence of these big shopping carts in Israel is interesting to me, because when I lived there as a child we had no supermarkets or carts. We shopped at the little "makolet" and carried home the groceries in a plastic string sack. (The sack was reusable. Every household had a few.) We had a small-sized refrigerator, and I doubt it would have held a full week's groceries.

Posted by: Mirty | Aug 12, 2005 6:49:59 PM


Encryption is good, but not foolproof. I do my banking online because I like the convenience, but there are ever so many people who are afraid of potential problems.

I most concerned about the potential for an angry employee to take advantage of this information. One rogue network admin and someone might take the $27 I have in the bank.

Posted by: Jack | Aug 12, 2005 7:27:45 PM

We have them here in New Jersey too.
When was the last time you were in the States?

Posted by: lisoosh | Aug 12, 2005 7:48:44 PM

We have them here in New Jersey too.
When was the last time you were in the States?

Posted by: lisoosh | Aug 12, 2005 7:49:16 PM

I live in the states and went to Aldi's one day and was totally unprepared for this type cart. It took a few minutes to figure the situation out. I think it is a good idea if it actually works. Where I live, there are both cornfields and shops in the same block. There are lots of extra shopping carts sitting at all of the apartment buildings and it bothers me. First that someone took one to start with as I would hate to think what each of them cost, but also because they are unsightly. If I hadn't been to aldi's though, I wouldn't have had a problem admitting that I had never seen one before. :) Thanks for sharing.

Posted by: JC | Aug 12, 2005 11:24:07 PM

Is Aldi's German? I thought they were owned by Trader Joe's (my favorite store on the planet).

(Huh. I just looked it up and Trader Joe's is German, too. Learn something new every day...)

Posted by: Tanya | Aug 12, 2005 11:42:05 PM

Trader Joes is awesome.

Posted by: Jack | Aug 13, 2005 12:52:10 AM

ac...I’ve only been to Costco in Columbia, MD and nope...none there also.

I find if there is a "cart house" spaced out every couple of lanes and located in the middle, then people seem to return the carts there, even in the rain (well perhaps not in a downpour.) But if none exists, another reason besides the rain why I wouldn't push it back, is if I have my children with me. I don't want to schlep them back and forth, dodging cars and stopping every few feet to pick up interesting objects found along the way (you know - the old crusty pennies that just makes them shout with glee.)

Hey, do those old telephone tokens work in the carts? I think I still have a bunch of them saved in a jar.

Posted by: js | Aug 13, 2005 8:08:00 AM

Tanya, the Aldi chain belongs to the Albrecht brothers...that's actually how they started their "career", with Aldi supermarkets. Their first store opened in Essen in 1962. As an interesting fact, the Aldi enterprise [Germany] divides into "Aldi" and "Aldi Sued" and some regional smaller organizations and hence don't count as corporate group and are not required to publish their balances. Meaning, they make a LOT of money.

Trader Joe's is a part of the Albrecht brothers' imperium...

Posted by: mademoiselle a. | Aug 13, 2005 12:24:43 PM

[sob!] One of the few things I truly miss (excepting, of course family which trumps all else!) IS TRADER JOE'S!!!!!!

Posted by: zahava | Aug 13, 2005 8:57:43 PM

I think someone already mentioned that an American quarter works if you don't have a 5 shekel coin- FYI, a 10 shekel coin also works in most of these carts.

Heh heh- whenever we're in the US, I always feel sorry for those "cart cowboys" (great name) who have to corral countless carts no matter what the weather- neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor awful heat/humidity of summer.....

Posted by: a | Aug 13, 2005 11:04:16 PM

mademoiselle a. ... don't think of them as abandoned carts... think of them as 'bum Buicks' or 'homeless Hummers'. Those are really the only people who make use of them outside of their intended scope of intended use, right. Oh, and I liked the way you made those tags sit up and pay attention... well done! :-)

Mirty... We still have neighborhood makolets all over the country, but there are very few of the smallish supermarkets left except in the very small communities.

Jack... Nothing is impervious to abuse. The companies you are sending your hand-written checks to can also steal your account number and personal info.

Lisoosh... Last year, but I am still waiting for someone to tell me how much you have to put in the cart there. If it is a quarter I doubt it will be very effective either as a way to get people to return the cart to the corral... or to reduce cart theft.

JC... Don't thank me... as I said, I'm a giver. :-)

Tanya... That's one of the things I love about these meandering threads... you can learn some interesting stuff even when the original post was pretty lame. :-)

Jack... We were big Trader Joe's fans in the states (especially their Key Lime Pies).

js... No, asimonim are too small and think for the slots. I still have a few also (I show them to my kids whenever I'm in a mood to deliver one of my 'you have no idea how easy kids these days have it...' lectures). :-)

mademoiselle a. ... You are just a font of information! Thanks!!!

a. ... OK, but who walks around Israel with American quarters in their pocket? BTW, I hope I didn't give anyone the impression that I coined the term 'cart cowboy' because it's been around for ages.

Posted by: David | Aug 13, 2005 11:30:01 PM

I believe the (temp) cost of a cart is a quarter. And no, in the dead of winter it's not enough to get me to return my cart. LOL!

Posted by: celestial blue | Aug 14, 2005 4:44:50 AM

A pound coin in the UK - it's been in place for at least 10 years there.

Was shocked to have to pay $3 for a trolley at JFK - Land of the Free - don't make me laugh!

Posted by: gil ben mori | Aug 14, 2005 7:41:40 AM

Um, don't laugh, but I actually keep a quarter in my purse for that very purpose. Sure comes in handy!

Posted by: a | Aug 14, 2005 5:44:34 PM

I'm not saying they don't have these devices anywhere in North America, but it's perfectly possible to live a normal shopping life and never encounter them.

But if they were to have them, in Canada we do have $1 and $2 coins. We can also pay our bills at the aBm (or online, or telephone banking), and had been using interac (debit) for years before it became ubiquitous in the states. On the other hand, we're on the same lousy cell phone system, except it's more expsensive :(

Posted by: Tara | Aug 14, 2005 6:37:24 PM

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