Trolley tracking: Can technology solve Singapore's shopping carts problem?
SINGAPORE: Technology and other techniques adopted by overseas supermarkets may not be the answer to the ongoing problem of abandoned shopping trolleys in Singapore, with local supermarkets saying that such methods have not been successful.
The supermarket chains have been grappling with the problem of missing trolleys, with many of them incurring hefty costs.
In the past two years, Sheng Siong has lost about 500 to 600 metal trolleys annually, and that translates to about S$48,000. NTUC FairPrice has lost about 1,000 trolleys every year over the same period. The supermarket chain spends about S$150,000 every year on repairing, replacing and retrieving unreturned trolleys. For both Giant and Cold Storage, about 1,000 trolleys are lost every year.
Earlier this week, Channel NewsAsia reported that the Municipal Services Office had received some 600 notifications about abandoned trolleys since launching a crowdsourcing function in April to try to help supermarkets in their fight against the problem.
A video of supermarket staff retrieving abandoned trolleys from Jurong West sparked discussion on Facebook, with many suggestions on how to tackle the problem.
Facebook user Christine Tan suggested setting up a counter to collect a deposit of S$20 for each trolley. "Shoppers will only get their money back when they return. It's more efficient than asking the staff to go around the whole estate to collect back the abandoned trolleys."
Another user Ricky Hoo suggested installing an alarm or a GPS tracking device on each trolley. "Once the trolley leaves the building, the alarm will be activated. Otherwise use GPS on them."
Abandoned shopping trolleys are also a problem elsewhere in the world, with a number of solutions being adopted. British supermarket Iceland has outfitted its trolleys with tall metal poles that prevent shoppers from leaving the stores with the shopping cart. In the United States, supermarkets such as Costco and Walgreens have equipped the wheels of trolleys at certain branches with a locking device that is triggered when shoppers go beyond store boundaries.
GPS TRACKING AND ALARM TAGS POSSIBLE HIGH-MAINTENANCE COSTS
These ideas have not been ignored by local supermarket chains. A spokesperson from Sheng Siong told Channel NewsAsia that the supermarket has considered technologies such as GPS tracking and using an alarm tag on each trolley which would be triggered if it was taken beyond a certain perimeter.
But it has not adopted these approaches due to possible high maintenance costs, as well as the likely impact on the customer experience, said the spokesperson. Currently, the supermarket is adopting a coin-lock system that requires a one dollar deposit.
Cold Storage and Giant had considered the use of Radio-frequency identification (RFID). But after evaluation, they found it challenging to implement in Singapore as the technology requires the setting up of wireless system points at the boundaries of shopping centres.
"In Singapore, our supermarkets are typically located in shopping malls or properties which are not owned by us. This makes installation of the system challenging subject to the approval of building owners," said a spokesperson from the Dairy Farm group, which owns Cold Storage and Giant.
"Furthermore, there may be too many 'exit' points at some malls and sometimes even blind spots which the system may not be able to capture," the spokesperson added.
In 2001, NTUC FairPrice piloted a system that would lock up the wheels of the trolley beyond a certain boundary. The initiative was tested at its outlet in Hougang Mall but was discontinued, said Mr Jonas Kor, director for Corporate Communications, NTUC FairPrice. "Shoppers still found a way to bypass the system either by lifting the trolley when they reached the perimeter or abandoned the trolley there when they locked up, which obstructed walkways," Mr Kor explained.
Instead, a public education campaign was started in 2010. FairPrice has been working with the Singapore Kindness Movement to encourage shoppers to be responsible by returning their trolleys after use. Since then, the supermarket has noted a drop in the number of abandoned trolleys.
As Jurong West has been highlighted by FairPrice as "an area of particular concern", with about 80 to 120 trolleys being retrieved every day, the supermarket said it is currently in discussion with the various town councils including the authorities to explore ways to collaborate and collectively alleviate the issue.
While others have criticised Jurong West residents as inconsiderate for not returning supermarket trolleys, National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan said some people might have "real needs".
"Those who do use the carts beyond the premises, I would go as far to say that yes, you may have a group that is lazy, (and) who is inconsiderate. But you may also have a group with real needs," said Prof Straughan. "We are an ageing population."
She added that Singaporeans have a role to play to build a gracious society.
"If we do see wilful behaviour, perhaps what we could do is suggest to them in a very polite manner: 'Oh they should return the cart otherwise other people won't be able to use them'. When we do see a situation where there is a real need, perhaps those who are able-bodied can return the carts on behalf of these fellow Singaporeans."
of cos not totally solve the prob
bcos we cannot solve ppl's upbringing and å…¬å¾·å¿ƒ
but at least there is some effort
not only for the supermarkets to save money (and hopefully give us more discounts) but oso to prevent these "vehicles" from blocking the way, and oso kids wheeling them ard like toys and falling on their heads