It's a market wrapped in a corporate culture inside a nudge

Reader Ted Unnikumaran writes in to say he recently realized he’s been staring at this nudge (and more) from Aldi Grocery stores for years:

One of the first things you realize when you shop at Aldi’s is that in order to get a shopping cart you need to deposit a quarter into the shopping cart and this releases the shopping cart from the other carts. When you are done shopping, you can get your quarter back by sliding the shopping cart back into the back of the other carts at the front of the store. What this does is it forces customers to return the shopping carts, and Aldi’s doesn’t have to hire anyone to go through the parking lot gathering all the carts.

Its also created a small market for people who want to return your carts for you. I shop at the store in Langley Park, MD and there usually one or two gentlemen who will politely ask you if you would like help unloading your groceries. In return, they will return your carts for you and keep the quarter as tip. If you politely say “No thanks” they leave you alone.

The company’s web site says “this expense-saving tradition (no rolling carts to chase and no damaged cars!) has become a legendary part of the ALDI culture.”


  • Linda

    This “nudge” is something that has been done in Europe for years. I lived in Rome for 9 years from ’91-2000 and the big supermarkets in Rome were already doing it. The other nudge they do is charged 500 lira(now it’s probably a euro) for a plastic shopping bag. I know this is starting to take over, but these innovations are not new, they just hark back to human nature. I just finished reading an article that mentioned your book in the Economist and have now been made aware of “nudges”, which I have known for years as common sense – just now a new word to describe a human behavior. Will look forward to reading your book.

  • Javad

    I agree. I live in France, and many chains like Carrefour have this. These nudges are around. For example, if one wants to get cash from an ATM, the money will not be available until the client removes the credit card from the ATM machine. This a simple way to make people get their cards back, and not leave without it.

  • Rafe Saltman

    Great Canadian Superstore and others here in Canada do this too. Loonie in to get the cart, return the cart for loonie out.

  • spaniard

    Same in Spain, i’m 26 and we’ve had the carts with the coin for as long as i can remember

  • Imani

    Same thing in Brescia Italy. I just wonder why we don’t do the same here in the States.

    Another nudge is that one must use plastic gloves there before touching or picking produce that is not prepackaged. Makes great sense!