Take a look at any big box or grocery store parking lot, and you’ll notice a number of shopping carts scattered about. In fact, the act of returning a shopping cart to its corral — or, better yet, back to the store — has become a chore not all are willing to engage with, as millions of shopping carts go missing every year. Many of them starnded in public spaces creating a nuisance for municipalities.
In 2022, the city of Santa Fe proposed a bill to target this very issue, and the city of Fayetteville, North Carolina spent precious resources rounding up missing carts over two years. It’s an issue that doesn’t get a lot of press attention, but one that creates stress and financial strain for retailers year after year.
TRACARTS (TRAC) is an emerging concept taking on this challenge, helping retailers save time, money, and their carts while incentivizing the shopper to return the cart. “Two million shopping carts go missing every year from food retailers alone,” explains TRACARTS COO and founder Haim Heller. “That’s over $600 million in losses.”
Addressing the pain of missing carts
Cart theft and damage can be significantly detrimental to retailers, especially from a financial standpoint. Replacing lost shopping carts can cost upwards of $200 per cart, and those costs can add up quickly. Cart theft and damage can also place stress on personnel charged with gathering carts and getting them back into the store in one piece, not to mention the liability from stray carts damaging cars parked in the lot.
TRACARTS is using technology to address the problem of missing and stolen carts. With an installed TRAC hub in the retailer’s parking lot, shopping carts are easily tracked and locked in when not in use, and shoppers are incentivized to return their carts. “We are using a combination of technology, engineering, and psychology to solve this expensive problem,” says Heller.
The psychological component of TRAC is its “special sauce,” so to speak. “TRAC was born out of an understanding of what customers want and what will make them happy,” Heller explains. The service also considers the question of one’s moral character and social sensibilities connected to the simple act of returning a cart. All this is accomplished using the retailer’s existing cart fleet.
How it works
The TRAC hub consists of customizable shopping cart trains, individually outfitted as one, two, or three multi-directional lines of carts hooked into the TRAC system. The Hubs are strategically placed throughout the lot allowing shoppers easy access to carts and short distances to return them, allowing shoppers to get to their cart and continue with their shopping experience, without having to weave through cars to retrieve or return a cart. Upon returning the cart, the shopper is rewarded for their effort.
TRAC’s patented shopping cart retraction system manages the shopping carts. The carts lock into the track hub and can only be released after the shopper identifies themselves through the TRAC smart technology.
The TRAC kiosk serves as the gateway to the carts — either releasing them from the Train or returning them to the Hub. When at the hub, the shopper simply uses the White Label app, the fob, a pin code, and their phone number to release the cart. To return the cart, they simply return it to the train — no further interaction with the kiosk is required. Only electricity and wifi access are required for the retailer, and the trains can be placed in any configuration.
Customer insights and incentives
The TRAC app is a way to engage with and incentivize customers. The customer engages with the TRAC app, the fob, pin code, and telephone input when they release the cart. At check out, the shopper is reminded to return the cart. Shoppers will also be notified if the cart is not returned within a custom allotted time, inspiring and incentivizing the customer to do just that. This cuts down on the incidents of lost and stolen carts or carts damaged from being left in the parking lot.
“TRAC is another means of positive customer engagement,” says Heller. There is also an ancillary advantage in the ability to build loyalty via exclusive offers, specials, and rewards programs. Through the TRAC dashboard, retailers can better understand customer behavior, such as data on how long customers spend in their stores and what their shopping habits may be.
Charts available through the dashboard also give data on how many carts are used at one time, and a list of shoppers using those carts. The dashboard can be completely customized per retailer, allowing them to better manage employees, user accounts, and access rights.
Solving the cart problem
When carts are stolen or unreturned, consumers are the ones who ultimately suffer. Stolen carts create financial hardship and undue frustration for retailers, while abandoned shopping carts can cause blight in neighborhoods and often wind up in roadways, waterways, and other places where they can cause damage — or simply become an eyesore. City leadership from Ogden, Utah to Dartmouth, Massachusetts have struggled to come up with a solution to the missing cart issue — from fining people found in possession of stolen carts to fining the retailer for not properly handling the wayward cart issue.
TRACARTS is stepping forward to offer a comprehensive solution to this issue. With a nod to the latest technology and human psychology, TRACARTS is enhancing the retail industry and saving retailers money, and time while raising customer satisfaction.