Readers have strong opinions on shopping cart behavior




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“If you aren’t mature enough to return your cart as a courtesy to your fellow humans, you aren’t mature enough to go shopping.”

The wheels are off the wagon when it comes to abandoning your shopping cart. AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

If there’s one thing we learned from our recent poll about shopping cart behavior, it’s that when you roll out of Market Basket to unload your groceries, people are watching you. And probably judging.

Because supermarket shoppers in Greater Boston — at least based on the more than 900 responses we compiled — have some strong opinions about whether or not you need to properly return your cart once your grocery experience is over. (And many also had some pretty choice words for Dr. Leslie Dobson, whose viral TikTok in defense of abandoning your cart prompted the conversation.)

In general, most people — 75% of respondents — agreed with Jen C. of Lowell that there’s never a good reason for not returning your cart. “To quote George Costanza: We’re living in a society!” Jen wrote. “It’s not that hard to park near a cart corral, making the cart return quick, safe and easy.” 

That said, a few respondents (13%) bought Dr. Dobson’s argument that leaving your children in the car to return your cart compromises their safety. “My kids are much more important to me than potentially hurting someone’s feelings,” wrote Nick A. of Lexington.

If you’re physically able, when is it OK to NOT return your shopping cart?

When your kids are in the car

As for other reasons it’s acceptable to leave your cart in the nether-reaches of the parking lot, the one most cited by the 9% of readers defending that position was to get back at grocery stores for making you check yourself out — so out of spite, in other words.

“After ringing my groceries MYSELF, bagging my groceries in MY OWN bags, I feel no need to return my cart,” wrote Liz from Arlington. “I haven’t received a W-2 from Stop & Shop, but I feel like I work there!” 

Stan C. of Londonderry, New Hampshire, had a maybe less convincing excuse for hopping into your SUV and leaving your cart in the dust: “What if you get a phone call or text and discover that there is an emergency that has to be immediately attended to?” (Yes, we’re sure that happens all the time, Stan.)

No matter what, Dan M. of Abington reminds us that “everyone’s story is different.” 

“You can’t judge someone you don’t know because of a 20-second snippet of time that you saw them do something you don’t agree with,” he argues, which is very magnanimous of him. Most respondents, however, had opinions much more in line with E from Boston, who wrote:

“You are an evil person if you don’t return your cart. I hope you step on all the Legos and hit your shin on every table leg.” 

See below for some highlights from readers on the shopping cart controversy.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

It’s never OK not to return your cart:

“Unless my child or I are actively throwing up or very sick, I always return the cart. It takes less than a minute and is the respectful and responsible thing to do. I explain this to my kids often when they are being impatient as I return the cart. I just hope they will be responsible when they grow up.” — Emily, Belmont

“No one said you had to put the kids in the car before returning the cart. Park by a cart return. If I can’t park right next to one, I park across from one. You may have to walk further to and from the store, but I find it worth it when I have the kids with me. Because I always, always, always return the cart.” — Sarah, Charlotte

“If you are so afraid that your children will be kidnapped by some random stranger whilst returning your cart, then read the statistics to baseline your fears (it’s called education). Besides, just by driving, you are endangering your children’s lives (again, read the stats) much more than leaving them in the car for a brief moment.” — Mauro, Easton

“Simple, if you aren’t mature enough to return your cart as a courtesy to your fellow humans, you aren’t mature enough to go shopping.” — Charlie W., Aikenton, Georgia 

“If someone’s paranoia rises to the level of the woman mentioned in the article, why go out at all?” — John, South End

“I am disabled with COPD and a bad back. I walk with a cane. I always return my cart.” — Michael L., Mansfield

“It takes 30 seconds to put your cart in a corral or back to the supermarket building — at the most 60 seconds. No one will snatch your kids, especially if you lock the doors. Admit to yourself that you’re just being lazy.” — Jenny, Metrowest 

“Your kids are precious to you, but nobody else wants them. Teach your kids a positive lesson about being a good community member and not a selfish jerk. Return the cart.” — John, Walpole

“I work at a store and people who don’t return carts are ignorant. Those carts roll off and damage cars, customers complain there are no carts because lot attendants are combing the perimeter of the lot getting carts and it slows them down … Employees hate customers.” — Hakeem, Cambridge

“I work at Trader Joe’s. All employees take turns collecting carts. You are not ‘giving someone a job’ by leaving your cart in the parking lot! We all also are cashiers, stockers, etc. No one only collects carts. We HATE when people leave them in the parking lot. [Also], never step in front of someone pushing a large number of carts. Obviously they don’t brake and you’re likely to get inadvertently hit, because a long line of carts gathers a lot of momentum.” — Anonymous

“Human trafficking is a real issue, but white ladies who’ve consumed too much true crime media and have convinced themselves that they or their kids will be abducted by a stranger in a parking lot are delusional.” — Anonymous

“Every parking lot needs the Cart Narc, who shames people for leaving their carts everywhere (except where they belong). No, it’s not ‘somebody else’s job’ — their job is to retrieve the carts from the cart corral … People who don’t return the carts are entitled and what is wrong with society today. “ — Mikem, Andover

“If you think it’s OK, you’re probably also the type of person who leaves empty popcorn bags and soft drinks on the floor of movie theaters instead of throwing them in the trash on your way out. Not your problem, right?” — Joe, Hopkinton

It’s OK if you have kids in the car:

“A parent or anyone should never leave a kid in the car. More so on hot days. Sometimes the cart return is way too far to walk to return it. Any kidnapper could bust a window and take a kid or two.” — Santana, Watertown

“If you have children in the car they should NEVER be left alone in the car while you return the cart — there are too many screwed up people that might prey on that opportunity to grab a child!” — Mary L., Myrtle Beach

“I sometimes left my cart when it was raining and I’d gotten my baby/toddler son into the car. (Normally, I’d bring him to the cart return and carry him back.) I figured it was better to abandon the cart than have someone call the cops on my leaving my toddler in the car alone for four minutes.” — Madeline, Boston

“After reading the article, I wouldn’t leave my kids in the car either (I don’t have kids). I sometimes worry my groceries are going to get stolen while I return my cart!” — DJ, Amesbury

“Keeping your kids safe is top priority. You don’t want to have to lock them in to return the cart, especially if they are very young or babies. I try to offer to help the elderly and mothers with young kids and encourage other able-bodied people to do the same.” — “Trying to be Good,” Chelmsford

You’re never obligated to return your cart:

“As long as you leave it where it doesn’t roll into another car you are fine. After an hour with kids in the store and running around with four kids after work and needing to get dinner ready … I got healthy food instead of drive-thru … and assisted with job security because MB is smart and has a team of people getting the carts and bringing them in from all over the parking lot. Healthy dinner for my kids and exercise and fresh air for the employees! (Win-win.)” — Kate, Reading

“It’s OK to just leave it adrift sometimes. People should stop judging each other so much and give each other a little bit more grace. Everyone is doing the best they can. This behavior does not make anyone a bad person. Please reserve that moniker for the truly bad things out there that actually harm others.” — Cambridge Mom

“The grocery store employs someone to gather carts. It’s not my job to help Jeff Bezos save a buck by returning his precious Whole Foods shopping cart. You can move it somewhere out of the way, like a grassy median, and that’s just fine.” —  Ryan, Malden

“I almost always return the shopping cart, with the exception being at Walmart if they shut all registers down and force you to go to self-checkout. If they can’t ring me up, then they’ll have to fetch the cart. I’m just balancing things out.” — Millennial Who Hates Self-Checkout

“When they start ringing up my groceries again, and not charge me for every bag, then I’ll consider returning the cart. Until then … No way!” — Dan, Stoneham

Boston.com occasionally interacts with readers by conducting informal polls and surveys. These results should be read as an unscientific gauge of readers’ opinion.





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