Security Square Mall, an older mall that has repositioned itself with large, value-oriented stores and renovations, has something over its younger, more upscale rivals: shopping carts at all but one anchor.
That's more of an edge than it might seem, in the view of the Woodlawn mall's operators. And retail experts agree that more carts could help attract shoppers and prompt them to spend more.
Though the contraptions are typically identified with supermarkets or discount stores, retailers are discovering that shoppers like the convenience at a broader array of stores. Some chains have rolled out lighter, less cumbersome versions that double as strollers.
Plus, retailers are finding that shoppers spend more when they have a cart than when they don't.
Shoppers purchase an average 7.2 items with carts, as opposed to 6.1 items without, according to America's Research Group, a Charleston, S.C., consumer research firm that studied how carts affect sales at discount apparel and home improvement retailers.
"Basically, every time we added a cart to a store, we immediately sold one additional item across the board," said Britt Beemer, the research group's founder and chairman. "Invariably, it was a big-ticket item. People who never considered Kmart as a place to buy a TV or VCR were now buying a TV or VCR at Kmart.
"Shopping carts became a strong value to customers who say, 'I don't want to shop a store where I have to worry about lugging something around.'"
Some newer retailers, such as Old Navy, started out making carts part of their concept. The Gap Inc. division is one of the five of six anchors with carts at Security Square, along with Burlington Coat Factory, J. C. Penney Outlet Store, Wards and Sears, Roebuck and Co. Shopping carts are new for Wards and for Sears, which will add them in mid-October.
"This is something unique to the Baltimore marketplace," said Deirdre Moore, the mall's general manager. "Everyone is recognizing the more convenience we can offer our customers while they're shopping, we will become more of a destination. For some customers, yes, it will make the difference in where they shop."
Wards and Sears added carts as part of image and design make-overs. By this year's holiday season, Wards will have remodeled 76 of 251 stores with circular "racetrack" designs, brighter lighting, updated fixtures, a trendier mix of apparel and home accessories - and shopping carts.
"We saw the shopping cart in some competition, and frankly wanted to give it a try," said Bill Bass, vice president of store operations for Wards. "It's not something we've done in a department store environment."
Sears put carts in selected stores in November. "It was such an obvious hit with our customers that we decided we didn't need to do any more testing" before putting them in all stores, said Jan Drummond, a Sears spokes- woman. "We had measurable lift in stores where we had installed these carts."
Paco Underhill, managing di- rector of New York-based consumer research company Envirosell Inc., said that when he worked with Pfaltzgraff Pottery to boost sales at its stores, he noticed customers' carts were full by the time they reached checkout. After the retailer increased the size of the carts by 40 percent, average sales per customer rose.
"Anything that frees up people's hands encourages customers to buy more," Underhill said. "You really cannot know how much shoppers will buy until you have made the shopping experience as comfortable ... and practical as possible."
But offering the right type of cart matters, Underhill said. "If you are in an expensive clothes stores, you do not want to be carting around your potential purchases in cheesy supermarket carts," he said. "It cheapens the whole experience. The store should have carts that fit their image and be user friendly."
Retailers are partly following the pack in adding carts, but they're also tuning in to consumer demand for stores that are easier to shop, said Beemer of America's Research. But he says the cart phenomenon won't spread much further. "The Macys of the world are not laid out for carts," he said. "If they ever got carts, God help us. Department stores are going to be the last bastion of no carts."