Is It Rude to Not Return Your Grocery Cart? This Woman Doesn’t Think So (and Many Think She Has a Point)

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Full-size shopping carts in a row. Symbol of shopping, retail or supermarket. Refined parking lot scene.
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At public places like grocery stores, there’s a certain kind of etiquette shoppers are encouraged to follow. Not just in the store, but also in the parking lot. Whether it’s being mindful of people walking through the lot or employees corralling multiple carts, not leaving trash in the cart, or not leaving your cart in the middle of the lot, parking lot etiquette is just as important as store etiquette. This, of course, has become the subject of a heated debate online.

Last week on TikTok, creator Leslie Dobson posted a video about how she does not return her shopping cart when she’s at the store. Her reasoning behind it has to do with safety, as well as convenience. “I’m not getting my groceries into my car, getting my children into the car, and then leaving them in the car to go return the cart.” She explains to her viewers that they can “judge her all [they] want” and that she couldn’t care less about the dirty looks that other shoppers will give her.

One could argue that this reasoning does make sense (leaving kids unattended in an unlocked car can be dangerous), which is a point Dobson makes continually in the comments on her post. Other shoppers are bringing up many valid points to all the holes in her particular argument.

“Bring your kids with you to return the shopping cart after loading the groceries into the car,” writes one TikTok user. “I have two young babies and always return my cart, or even park right next to the cart return.”

Others also mention that this particular viewpoint doesn’t work in reverse, when you’re getting the shopping cart at the beginning of your trip. “How did you get your cart? You either leave your children in the car, or take them with you. Seems like that would work in reverse,” comments a TikTok user.

This all can actually drive back to The Shopping Cart Theory, which has sparked memes and heated discussions on social media. The theory tests the “individual’s capacity to self-govern” and evaluates a person’s moral character over whether they return their shopping cart or leave it next to their car. Technically a person isn’t obligated to return a cart, but doing so makes it easier (and sometimes even safer) for other shoppers and store employees.

One heated Reddit thread dives deeper into the theory, and one of the most common arguments has to do with moving shopping carts hitting vehicles. “Have you ever seen the wind catch a cart and send it rocketing into a parked car? I have,” writes one Reddit user. “The real beneficiaries of putting your cart back are your fellow shoppers who don’t have to worry about your cart rolling away and damaging their cars,” writes another. Plus, these carts can take up space in a parking lot, making it even more inconvenient for new shoppers to find a spot that works for them.

“It was never about the shopping cart,” comments another user on Dobson’s TikTok video. “It’s about the principle. It’s about answering the question: Am I willing to take some time out of my day to do something nice for nothing in return?”

Some stores, such as ALDI, have found a solution to this problem. In order to use a shopping cart, you have to put a coin in it to release it. If you return it, you get the coin back. If you don’t, then the worker gets the coin for doing the work for you. Would all grocery stores benefit from this method?