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While parents shop at Meijer, cartoon screens keep kids distracted — but some adults aren’t too amused


 Grocery shopping is easier for harried parents when their young children don’t beg for constant attention. At least that’s the idea behind Meijer’s video-equipped shopping carts. In addition to holding milk, Kix, and kids, the carts carry screens that play a video loop of popular TV shows.

“They’re trying to entertain kids to extend the shopping period — keeping moms in stores longer so, of course, they buy more,” says Jeff Hershey, president of Jeff Hershey Consulting, a retail market-research company. “I think it’s a combination with trying to differentiate yourself between other players in the market.”

Stacie Behler, a spokeswoman for Grand Rapids-based Meijer, says the company has gotten only positive feedback since its trial run at an Indianapolis store last year. The program has since expanded to 80 stores, many in southeast Michigan; each store has as many as five cartoon carts.

“It provides an opportunity for busy moms and dads to shop while kids are watching Bob the Builder or Dora the Explorer or The Wiggles,” Behler says. “It’s a program that gets our customers a little more relaxed while shopping.”

The videos show no ads. However, the ubiquity of electronic distractions for kids should be met with concern, says Eric Herman, a clinical psychologist at Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit. 

“[Shopping with small children] is a difficult situation for parents, but for kids to be healthy, parents have to actively work that out,” he says. “This is how kids learn, not by being super-distracted and avoiding the situation. If the kids are busy with the video and are quiet, that doesn’t mean they’re well behaved. It doesn’t mean anything other than they’re distracted.” 

Herman says shopping has traditionally been a time for learning. You learned, for example, “what mom was buying, how to take ‘no’ for an answer, about coupons and money,” he says. “If they’re not interacting, how are they learning?”

The same may go for family vacations in screen-equipped vehicles. The sightseeing part is questionable. But, like quality tires and air conditioning, video screens do make for a quieter ride.
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