Throughout the entirety of the commerce world, the shopping cart is one of the least loved and appreciated elements. It is unfortunate that today, the shopping cart is often uttered in close proximity to the word “abandonment”; referring to e-commerce customers who begin the checkout process for their chosen products, but choosing to drop-out before completing the purchase (which stands at around 70 percent).
Such statistics often brings into question the usefulness and functionality of exasperated marketers, who regularly seek out new and potentially better ways forward. For much of its existence, however, the shopping cart has faced questions of its value to consumers and businesses. And as its utility has proven adamant, so has its staying power.
The physical shopping cart can trace is origins back to Oklahoma during the Great Depression. In 1936, Sylvan Goldman, owner of the Humpty Dumpty chain of grocery stores, along with one of his engineers, cobbled together an amalgamation of basket and carriage and subsequently patented the device, thus creating the original shopping cart.
Despite Goldman’s noble intentions of trying to help shoppers who were struggling with heavy hand-held baskets, initial adoption rate was low. Goldman had to stimulate interest among shoppers by hiring faux shoppers to espouse the benefits of his invention.
It worked, and within a decade, the devices had become commonplace to the point where dedicated telescoping models were used nationwide.
Unsurprisingly, as retail opportunities began to sprout online in the late 1980s, developers integrated a code-based version of the familiar shopping cart to assist shoppers with their digital purchasing experience.
As consumers grew more and more comfortable with shopping from the convenience of their desktops and laptops, however, legal matters almost derailed the technology.
In the early 1990s, a software developer called Open Market filed three patents on online shopping cart technology. Said patent would eventually bounce between several companies in a series of acquisitions before landing itself in the ownership of Soverain Software. Soverain, which fully embraced the licensing approach and pursued, and won, fees from retailers as large as Amazon.
One company that was forced to pat US$2.5 million, Newegg, appealed the ruling and convined the Federal Appeals court in 2013 that the patents were not valid. The decision caused the downfall of Soverain, which freed the technology from patent-related constraints.
Today, the online shopping cart endures as an arguable necessity for any kind of digital retail and e-commerce platform. For more than 70 years, the shopping cart has been a focal point of the customer experience, from cruising aisles of merchandise in a physical store to skimming product pages of a favourite retailer.
Moving forward, although its value is likely to wane in an increasingly frictionless online marketplace, the shopping cart is likely to stay until the day that consumers stop buying multiple items in one shopping session.