Singapore supermarkets push back against abandoned trolleys

An abandoned trolley along Pasir Ris Drive 3, seen on Sunday, 30 September 2018. Abandoned trolleys are a common sight in the area. PHOTO: Elena Torrijos/Yahoo News Singapore

by Nicholas Yong and Dhany Osman

Retail assistant Pan Soo Yong, 63, was on the move again to push trolleys. Except that the 30-year NTUC FairPrice veteran was doing so at a considerable distance from the supermarket chain’s outlet in Bedok North where he works.

Pan led Yahoo News Singapore to the 10th floor of an HDB block in the neighbourhood, where a trolley had been left at the lift landing.

Acting on customer tip-offs posted online and via a hotline, the bachelor has found trolleys dumped everywhere from carparks to void decks to garbage disposal areas and even drains.

“Sometimes, I will find seven or eight trolleys. Each time I go out, I walk about a kilometre. I have walked for an hour to retrieve trolleys before,” said Pan in Mandarin. He has ventured as far as Bedok South and Changi in the course of his duties.

Five times a day, Pan goes out to retrieve abandoned trolleys in the vicinity of his outlet at Blk 212 Bedok North Street 1. He is one of four trolley assistants at his outlet, and just one of the many supermarket staff battling the industry-wide problem of abandoned trolleys.

FairPrice, the largest supermarket chain in Singapore with 140 outlets, has received almost 2,000 reports of abandoned trolleys in just the first half of 2018. In comparison, there were 2,400 such cases in the whole of 2016 and 2,700 cases in 2017.

“We incur an estimated $150,000 annually on repairing, replacing and retrieving abandoned trolleys,” said FairPrice spokesperson Winston Ng, who added that it has been a longstanding problem. Each trolley costs $150.

NTUC trolley assistant Pan Soo Yong, who works at the supermarket chain’s outlet in Bedok North, goes around the vicinity five times a day to retrieve abandoned trolleys. PHOTO: Dhany Osman/Yahoo News Singapore

Ng noted that abandoned trolleys are an issue across many mature estates such as Jurong West, Bedok and Hougang. “In these estates, we have received close to 100 reported cases of stray trolleys in August alone,” said Ng.

Asked what were the reasons consumers gave for not returning their trolleys, Ng said, “We did conduct some survey to better understand consumer behaviour, and we find that the main reason people do not return the trolleys is, simply put, because of laziness.”

Some of the many FairPrice trolleys retrieved from around Singapore. PHOTO: NTUC FairPrice

Sheng Siong’s abandoned trolleys ‘under control’

In response to queries from Yahoo News Singapore, Sheng Siong, which is the next largest supermarket chain here with 51 outlets, said that the number of missing trolleys has been “kept under control” ever since it introduced plastic trolleys in late 2016. Where possible, Sheng Siong staff also help customers to push the trolleys to their cars or taxi stands.

A Sheng Siong spokesperson said the launch of an app called OneService in 2016 has helped the chain to manage the retrieval of trolleys found around the estates.

“It has helped us a lot as public could report the exact locations of the trolleys. At times, public would also email or call in to inform us of trolley sightings which we really appreciate,” said the spokesperson, who did not provide specific figures on abandoned trolleys.

Cold Storage, which has 45 outlets in Singapore, declined to respond to Yahoo News Singapore’s queries.

In a bid to alleviate the situation, FairPrice has tried out several initiatives but with limited success. It was the first supermarket to implement a coin lock system. It has increased the number of trolley return bays, which are typically located within carparks and at taxi stands.

“We also make it easy for the public to report trolley sightings through channels such as the customer hotline, email, the FairPrice Facebook page, the FairPrice On mobile app and the OneService app,” said Ng.

He noted, “We see this issue as an overall societal problem, and appeal to consumers to be gracious and responsible.”

Over in North Bridge Road, where retiree Madam Ling has lived for the past 10 years, abandoned trolleys are a common sight. The 69-year-old has seen them at carparks, HDB blocks and grass patches over the years. On Wednesday morning (3 October) alone, the mother of three saw four trolleys abandoned in the area.

Speaking in Mandarin, she said, “I am unhappy about this situation and would like to complain about it. Why can’t they (the people who abandoned trolleys) be civic-minded and return them to where they belong?”

Other Singapore stories

Highly anticipated AHTC hearing against 3 Workers’ Party MPs begins

CNA survey: Class is the great divider

Yahoo Poll: Have you considered emigrating from Singapore?