Reusable Bag’s Slow Adoption Curve

Discussion
Mar 28, 2011
Tom Ryan

Several grocers over the last few years have been providing a small
rebate, usually three to five cents, for each reusable bag shoppers bring in.
But some are finding it not much of an incentive.

In fact, a spokesperson for
Kroger told The Associated Press that it
has found no significant difference between reusable bag frequency in markets
with rebates and those without them. As such, Kroger has begun to phase out
the bag discounts at some of its stores. Safeway and Meijer have reportedly
begun to do the same.

Instead, Kroger is increasing education efforts. Parking
lot signs, for instance, ask, “Are your reusable bags still in the car?” In-store
signage explains that one reusable bag can replace hundreds of disposable bags.
Another states, “Less
Plastic? Fantastic.”

For its part, Safeway is offering 10 percent off its
line of environmentally friendly home products to shoppers who use the Safeway “Bright
Green” reusable
bags.

The changes illustrate the industry’s slow progress to date in getting
people into the habit of using reusable bags.

“I think in today’s world, ‘sustainability’ and that kind of
feel-good issue associated with living lighter doesn’t seem to have the same
impact or priority when compared to prices and all that kind of stuff,” Bill
Bishop, chairman, Willard Bishop Consulting, told The Toledo Blade.

According
the Food Marketing Institute, half of shoppers in a recent survey said they “try” to
bring reusable bags to stores, an increase of 10 percent over 2009. But half
also reported their use of the reusable bags as “never” or “less
than monthly.”

Beyond eco-goodwill, retailers also stand to significantly
reduce supply expenses if all shoppers begin touting canvas bags. Kroger saved
more than 200 million plastic bags in 2009.

But retailers remain on the fence
when it comes to fully supporting local reusable bag proposals. Several states
are now considering bans on plastic bags or requiring fees on disposable bags
following similar actions taken by some local and county governments. If plastic
bags are banned, retailers would be forced to offer more expensive paper bags
for shoppers neglecting to bring their own reusable bags. Some stores are charging
up to 10 cents each for paper bag use. Not surprisingly, there’s been some
consumer backlash to the fees charged for disposable bag use.

Discussion Question: What do you think are the most effective ways for stores to encourage reusable bag use?

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18 Comments on "Reusable Bag’s Slow Adoption Curve"


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Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

The future of reusable bags will be based on education and convenience. The 3 to 5 cent cash incentive is so small as to make little difference in the decision to use same. The Safeway program of 10% off its line of environmentally friendly home products to shoppers who use the Safeway “Bright Green” reusable bags offers an incentive that may influence behavior.

However, education combined with convenience is a way forward. By convenience, I mean developing a method of making it easy for customers to remember and bring their reusable bags with them. Perhaps it might be something as simple as a reminder tag on the car keys or a more sophisticated reminder when using one’s electronic shopper card or when visiting the retailer’s website. Consumer desire to comply is relatively strong, what is needed are ways to make it easier to fulfill this desire.

Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
10 years 1 month ago

I’ll confess up front that I don’t have a solution to the problem. What we do know though is that traditionally, programs that deliver benefits in tiny, progressive increments fail. As humans, we typically don’t do well when it comes to acting in the present on the basis of future gain–especially when the long-term benefit is difficult to quantify. It’s in our nature to prefer immediate and material outcomes or rewards for our actions.

Max Goldberg
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

It’s hard to force consumers to change their habits. The opportunity to save 3-5 cents is not enough of an inducement. Many consumers, myself included, reuse the bags we get from grocery stores and use reusable bags. This is one issue that is going to be hard to legislate, and the value of the bag is not worth a large enough incentive from retailers to dramatically impact consumer behavior.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
10 years 1 month ago

We are living in an age where we are confronted with new appeals and processes including the desired use of reusable bags. Concurrently we also faced with many challenges to make ends meet and changing social, political, and cultural circumstances. We have been encircled by a panoply of new expectations in our daily behavior.

Most people want to comply but there are few easy ways to do so. We tend to conform to what seems best once we feel the need. So keep education programs going but lower the pressure for early customer performance.

Ben Ball
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

I like Kroger’s idea of parking lot reminder signs–because the only way I will ever remember to take the reusable bag that we keep in every vehicle into the store is if someone pins it to my jacket the way my mother used to pin my mittens! It’s not that we don’t try to do the right thing–it’s just not habit yet. And who’s going to turn around and go back to the car just to get the green bag? Too much bother when they are sitting right there on the checkout counter for free!

As much as I hate “penalty fees” to induce social behaviors–I have to admit that if I actually had to pay for the disposable bag I might be more motivated to return to the car for the green one when I forget. But I much prefer the Kroger idea of simply reminding me at the point of impact–my car–first.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

Why are we making this so difficult? If we don’t want people to use plastic bags, charge them for it. It is done throughout Europe. Watch how fast habits will change.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

The solution is simple; implementation almost impossible.

DON’T PROVIDE BAGS FREE.

The motivation of loss is greater than the opportunity of gain. Either don’t provide bags or start charging a nickle per bag provided.

Mike Blackburn
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

I can’t imagine getting shoppers off of plastic bags is really that big of a challenge; that is assuming we are actually serious about making an environmental change for the better. Why not ask a group of third graders what to do? They would probably say something like, charge a dime for each plastic bag used. If the average weekly shopper uses 10-15 bags, an extra $1 – $1.50 should be incentive enough to bring your own bags, no? I’m sure there are other easy answers, as this really isn’t that difficult, for the store or the shopper.

Connie Kski
Guest
Connie Kski
10 years 1 month ago

Maybe the cash incentive isn’t the right incentive. What if the reusable bag customer received a little bonus, like a flower, right at checkout. Sort of a “thanks for helping us use less plastic, here’s a little token to decorate your world.”

Sheri Kurdakul
Guest
Sheri Kurdakul
10 years 1 month ago

I believe a combination of efforts will be needed to influence today’s shoppers. Charging for disposable bags will help–IKEA does it (how is their program going?)–coupled with reminders, such as parking lot signage or key cards.

Why not consider a “frequent reusable bag” program? Offer a discount on future purchases based on how many bags you reuse (120 bags = 5% off total bill). It would not only encourage bag reuse, but store loyalty to reuse in their store.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

Reusable bags are a win-win for retailers and consumers. Retailers reduce supply expense and consumers will have goodwill as well as a better-quality “vessel” to transport their products home.

I think CPG companies could bet far more involved to offset the costs to consumers for these bags. Get some trendy logo bags in the marketplace, maybe even given away by retailers to promote the CPG brands? Trader Joe’s has some nice-looking bags. If a retailer can do it well, I know the CPGers can jump on board even more than they do presently.

David Livingston
Guest
10 years 1 month ago
Educating shoppers is the key. But you have to make it worthwhile. Aldi trained shoppers years ago to bring their own bags. As a reward, their groceries are about 35% cheaper. A nickel or dime per bag will only get the attention of the most frugal shoppers. A local co-op here in Milwaukee cut out the bag refund a couple of years ago. To them it was a waste of money since customers were willing to do it on their own. We all use plastic bags for so many other things–picking up dog poop, trashcan liners, and storing other recyclables. There will always be a demand for them. Stores could start by never charging for the reusable bags. I’ve gotten dozens over the years at grand openings and such. But after that grocers will often charge as much as dollar for them. That’s a big turnoff right there. Also make the bags look fashionable with bright colors and logos. Keep up the dime rebate. Makes me feel like I’m getting a deal when I buy… Read more »
jamie gabe
Guest
jamie gabe
10 years 1 month ago

The problem I see with reusable bags is that every store requires you to buy their brand bag in order to receive the discount. To save 3-5 cents per bag at all the places I shop for groceries, I would have to buy reusable bags for three different grocery store chains, one set for my local store where I shop at on the weekends, one for the store by my work for when I need something last minute and one more for the store near my child’s soccer field. I’m sure I’m not the only one that shops at multiple grocery stores chains. I refuse to buy three separate sets of bags for each store in order to get the discount. I bought generic reusable bags at ROSS, two for .99 cents, and use those instead. If stores really want lessen our impact on the environment they should give the 3-5 cents discount to anyone who brings in reusable bags regardless of what logo is on them.

Robert Straub
Guest
Robert Straub
10 years 1 month ago

Fred Meyer stores within the city limits of Portland have no plastic bags whatsoever, only paper. It was annoying at first but it doesn’t stop me from shopping there even though I can go across the street to a Safeway that provides free plastic bags. It’s just not that big of a deal even for those of use who aren’t green and have grown accustomed to use the bags to clean up after our dogs.

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
10 years 1 month ago

Well the carrot hasn’t worked, so maybe it’s time for the stick. No doubt, there are some greener consumers who are toting reusable bags to the store, but for many shoppers, it’s doubtful they’ll make the switch unless there’s a penalty, e.g., a retailer- or government-imposed cost for not using reusable bags.

That said, there are other issues at play here. Retailers, for instance, could do a better job of educating consumers about the need to use reusable bags. And merchants that do offer incentives for using reusable bags could do a better job of ensuring all customers know about the incentives. For many years, I was using reusable bags and receiving a few pennies off my basket total. But there were no communications to customers that such an incentive even existed. Retailers also need to ensure customers can use a variety of reusable bags, i.e., only allowing for the merchant-supplied bags that customers must pay for will strike some as an inconvenient cost.

Eliott Olson
Guest
Eliott Olson
10 years 1 month ago

Sell them great cloth bags. Sell them boxes. I pay more for the boxes because they are easy to pack and carry. Sell them knitted bags to hang their plants once they unpack. Treat your customer and the delicious food that you bag, box or gift wrap for them as if they were your best friend and it is their birthday. If you do that at the end of the day the only issue with a bag that will worry you is wondering whether the bank bag will fit in the night deposit slot.

Jeb Watts
Guest
Jeb Watts
10 years 1 month ago

I think the reusable bags are a great idea. I don’t think they will ever be popular because they slow the lines down in the stores. The baggers seem to be a little confused when they are given a handful of reusable bags.

Sue Brown
Guest
Sue Brown
10 years 1 month ago
For both personal and professional reasons, I have spent a lot of time researching this very topic. Small financial rewards mean almost nothing these days. Example: Consider how meaningless a 5 cent coupon is in generating product sales increases. So how can retailers expect a 5 cent per bag reward is a sufficient enough incentive to create a significant behavioral change among their customers? It’s time to turn the tables and instead of offering small rewards for good behavior create small disincentives for bad behavior. The most successful program in the country appears to be in operation in Washington D.C. (See summarizing article here.) Two years ago they implemented a 5 cent fee for each non-reusable bag “purchased” by customers. (This included both plastic and paper bags.) Within one year the city reduced the number of plastic bags they normally distribute from 270 million a year to less than 52 million. This is good news on many fronts. Not only did they remove the harmful influences of 218 million extra plastic bags from our environment… Read more »
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