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The title may sound a bit funny but it is something I spent a few hours thinking about during a recent car trip :)

In my country in order to get a shopping cart, you have to insert a coin. When returning the cart, you get back the coin you had inserted. It seems obvious to me that you don't buy the shopping cart by inserting the coin, so the ownership remains with the store even though you have "paid" for it.

But during this road trip, I was thinking: why? There is no explicit contract, it is just a societal norm. I assume from a legal point of view there is some sort of implied contract or something. However how are these terms determined? Is this related to fair use? And if so, what is fair use? I assume using the shopping cart to get your groceries home and then bringing back the cart would be valid (as long as you dont break it). But what about keeping it indefinitely until you move to a different area at which point you would return it?

I hope my previous questions are able to highlight what sort of question I mean by "what law governs shopping carts". Most of the answers I have so far are not based on laws but more on "it's what you have to do" mentality.

  • Location: Germany
  • Interested in: Germany primarily, other areas out of curiosity
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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Law Meta, or in Law Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Pat W.
    Aug 27, 2023 at 20:49

3 Answers 3

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Normal property law

When Aldi came to , they introduced their coin-in-the-slot model. The previous norm was that the trolleys were just available and people returned them. Some other chains also introduced the coin model.

AFAK, they have all been disabled by the store because trolleys with coins were far more likely not to be returned by the user than coins without. Because “F#@k you making me carry around a dollar coin. For a bloody dollar I’m not returning the damn thing, my time’s more valuable than that!”. But we’ll happily take the time to return the ones without coins because you respected us to do so and didn’t make it a commercial transaction. Take your bloody German cultural expectations back to Germany: if you want to operate here, you learn our culture.

Well, I enjoyed that tangent. Back to the topic …

The trolleys always belong to the store and are provided for the convenience of their customers. Whether you insert a coin or not doesn't change that - the coin is a deposit and since you get it back it doesn't count as consideration.

The licence which you are using them under contains an implied term that you will use them only for so long as you are interacting with the store in some way. If your intention is to steal the trolly, that is to permanently appropriate it for your own use outside the implied terms of the licence, then you’ve committed the crime of theft and the tort of conversion. In at least, it doesn’t matter that you intend to return it at some future time when you make off with it (so permanently has a bit of an odd definition here).

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Law Meta, or in Law Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Dale M
    Aug 26, 2023 at 3:03
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In , the legal situation is mostly the same as in Australia, as described in Dale M's answer.

One difference is the part about taking the cart with you:

I assume using the shopping cart to get your groceries home and then bringing back the cart would be valid (as long as you dont break it).

In Germany, that would not count as theft (Diebstahl) (source: Diebstahl gemäß § 242 StGB – Hilfe durch Anwalt für Strafrecht). However, you may have to convice a judge that you really intended to return the cart.

But what about keeping it indefinitely until you move to a different area at which point you would return it?

I am not sure about this part - but I would assume that "I will return it at some unspecified time" does not count, as anyone could say that; so theft.

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  • The problem is, that most judges won't buy your argument about the intent to return it, even if you say "It'll only take an hour"
    – Trish
    Aug 25, 2023 at 12:13
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    @Trish: Well, yes, personally I would not try it, but that's what the law says.
    – sleske
    Aug 25, 2023 at 12:49
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    @Trish: Ironically, it might help to have a (proven) record of always taking your groceries home in the shopping cart and reliably returning it an hour later.
    – Heinzi
    Aug 25, 2023 at 17:25
  • "In germany, the situation is mostly the same as in Australia, as describe in Dale M's answer." - I do not understand this claim. A key statement in the referenced answer is that Australian shoppers did not accept the coin-in-cart-to-unlock feature and it was thus quickly abandoned there. This is clearly not the case in Germany, where this system is the default now, in 2023, and has been for at least 3 decades. If your statement about the situation being mostly the same as in Australia refers only to a specific part of the other answer, maybe the statement can be clarified to that extent. Aug 27, 2023 at 16:02
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    @O.R.Mapper: I was referring to the legal situation - we're on law.SE after all. Edited to clarify.
    – sleske
    Aug 27, 2023 at 20:02
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In , when the coin system was introduced in the '80s, there used to be signs that the carts were to be kept within the parking lot perimeter. So using them to cart home and back was not allowed.

I do not see such signs anymore, probably because people got used to the idea of the coins.

Interestingly enough, you usually can get free plastic coins at the reception desk of the shop, and people will still bring the carts back (despite not having any monetary interest in doing this). This is because we are well organized and order must be maintained. We are well known for that. (it looks like I need to add an /s :))

You never see people with carts outside the parking lot, except those who are using the carts for activities they were not intended for.

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  • 4
    I've seen such signs somewhere recently (in France), though I can't remember where or what the perimeter was. But basically it's a "get the stuff to your car" model, not a "get the stuff back home" model.
    – jcaron
    Aug 25, 2023 at 16:32
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    With respect, France does not scream well organised :-p. Look at how many appeals go through the France court system each year?! Aug 27, 2023 at 20:09
  • @user5623335 number of appeals does not speak about organization but about litigancy and how much people want to be right
    – Trish
    Aug 27, 2023 at 20:30
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    @user5623335 yeah... Germany (with it's "pure strength of will") is the well-organized country. France is just about the polar opposite.
    – RonJohn
    Aug 27, 2023 at 22:13
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    @RonJohn: as I mentioned above, I thought it was clear that this was a joke :)
    – WoJ
    Aug 28, 2023 at 6:00

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