Does Shopping Cart Design Influence Purchases?

We all like to think we control our actions, but it's easy to overlook how influenced we are by our environment. This is certainly true when it comes to food. Research by Mindless Eating author Brian Wansink, Ph.D., of Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab, for example, has shown that larger plates encourage us to eat larger portions. A simple tweak like serving food on smaller plates can help people lose weight.

Now a small study by researchers at New Mexico State University takes this same basic idea in a different direction. When shoppers were given carts with a piece of yellow tape demarcating space for produce and space for other groceries, they purchased 102 percent more produce than shoppers given standard, unadulterated carts.

While certainly not conclusive, the study does raise some very interesting questions. Consider where you tend to put your produce when you shop. If you're like me, you may place your bananas, berries, and leafy greens in the top of your cart, since they're relatively delicate, and less likely to get smashed by bulkier items. When this small top space fills up, could you feel a subconscious cue to move away from the produce aisle? Would a more creatively designed cart encourage people to purchase more fruits and vegetables?

I hope researchers design a larger study to examine this very question. We’re all trying to find simple ways to improve our diets, and redesigned carts could be a relatively straightforward fix.

Like this? Read these!
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Cheryl Sternman Rule is a widely-published food writer and the voice behind the blog 5 Second Rule. Read all of Cheryl's iVillage posts here.

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