Cart return shopping is simply finding items and bags of items that people forget to take out of their shopping cart when they place the cart in the return area. It happens more than you think. I've found all kinds of things - food, scrapbook supplies, spices, beverages, towels, tools, hardware, CDs, and even a bank bag full of checks and cash (which I was hoping came from a large, evil corporation so that I could justify keeping it, but instead came from a local cheer and dance team...and so was returned to much thanks).
This is not something that I obsessively do. I don't stake out parking lots and watch the cart return all day. It is just something where if I happen to be at the store and walking by the cart returns in the lot, I will glance over and see if there is anything there. 9 times out of 10 there will be nothing or just used coffee cups or other trash...but every once in a while you find something worth checking out.
So how does this help me judge economic recovery? When the economy dropped into the dump in 2008, there was no cart return shopping...nothing was left behind. People weren't shopping as much, weren't buying as much when they did shop, and were very careful to get everything they paid for. Only in the past year has cart return shopping started to pick up again. It is not back to the levels it was, but I have found more things in the past 6 months than I had in the previous 2.5 years combined. I take that as a sign of progress for the country, people are being a little more carefree with there money.
Tips for cart return shopping:
- Like Wil Wheaton always says - Don't be a dick. If I happen to see someone actually leave an item behind, I will alert them to the fact. Even if I don't actually see the act of the item being left behind, I make sure to ask anyone that in nearby if they forgot the item. If there is any kind of identifying into...like a prescription pill bottle, take it to the lost and found. You are not trying to take advantage of people. It it a good feeling helping others out, even if it is just telling them that they forgot a can of tuna.
- Don't be afraid of the items. I have been told stuff like "That's gross" or "You don't know where that has been." Most stuff I find is boxed/canned items that don't require refrigeration...you know a 12 -pack of soda (this is by far the most common item forgotten because they are almost always put on the bottom rack) or maybe a bag containing a couple quick microwave lunch things. I can also say with 99% accuracy that this item has been in the store, in a cart, and forgotten, I just don't see someone tampering with food like this.
- Refrigerated items. I have found stuff that needs to be refrigerated and there are a couple factors that help me decide. 1) Is it still cool? Widespread modern refrigeration has only existed for about 100 years, man survived before this...if it is still cool, you are probably fine. 2) How often does your favorite store empty its cart returns? Mine usually gathers carts at least once an hour, so I know it has probably been there less than that. 3) Do I really like the item? I will usually pass on milk even if it is still plenty cold because I don't care that much for milk, orange juice on the other hand will be made at home in my fridge.
- Some stores are better than others...and many things go into this including the kind of people that frequent the store, cart design (carts with a nice lower shelf are best), quantity of cart returns (if there are lots of returns, the person doesn't have to walk as far and will be less likely to notice a forgotten item).
- Go when people are busy...and forgetful. Lunch time or right before closing seems the best because people are usually in a rush.
- You are not taking advantage of anyone (if you aren't a dick), not even the store...these items are paid for. I have never found anything really expensive and if I did, I would turn it in...but what is the lost and found really going to do with a 12-pack of diet coke? Would a customer return for this? I don't think so...and I have seen the cart gather throw everything away that is left in carts, including bags of items.
- Don't keep what you don't need/want. I don't keep a lot of the stuff I do find...if I have no use for an item - vagisil, baby items, re-fried beans, etc... I don't take it, that is just something that I end up throwing away. I leave that for someone else to salvage, I am not collecting junk.