5 Ways to Encourage Customers to Bring Their Own Bags

by Susan Johnston on July 26, 2011
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All around the country, there’s a war on plastic bags. San Francisco has largely banned the things since 2007. Now, Los Angeles County’s plastic bag ban went into effect on July 1 and will be phased in over the next few months. And Washington, DC has begun charging consumers five cents for every plastic or paper disposable bag they use when buying food or alcohol, while several other areas are considering similar measures.

Some forward-thinking businesses in other areas are already encouraging customers to go green by bringing their own bags (and greening their own reputations in the process). But getting consumers to do it isn’t always easy. Here are few of strategies from those who’ve been successful at the BYO bag game:

  1. Donate to charity.
    National consignment shop Buffalo Exchange has saved millions of bags through its Tokens for Bags program. At checkout, customers are offered a 5-cent token instead of a bag. As customers leave the store, they walk by boxes labeled with various charities and choose where to deposit their token. For each token dropped, Buffalo Exchange donates 5 cents to that charity, helping build goodwill with the community and positioning the store as a socially conscious organization.
  2. Offer a gift.
    At several locations of fair trade retailer Ten Thousand Villages, customers can choose to get a bite of fair trade chocolate in lieu of a bag. Jennifer Legler, store manager at the Pittsburgh location, says the Bites for Bags program has proven very popular. “They get really excited to get something for free,” she adds. Her store gives away between 150 and 250 bites per month. The program also allows customers to sample their chocolate (and possibly purchase some) and encourages customer loyalty.
  3. Discount their purchase.
    Many grocery stores offer a 5 or 10-cent discount for each bag that customers bring. In fact, MommySavers compiled a partial list of stores that offer a BYO bag discount. The benefit to these retailers is that they go through fewer bags and offer a small incentive to customers who bring their own, keeping bargain-hunters happy.
  4. Create a raffle.
    Some Trader Joe’s locations encourage customers to use their own bags by handing out raffle tickets to win a $25 Trader Joe’s gift card each time they use their own bag instead of disposables. I’m a huge TJ’s fan and the possibility of winning free groceries adds a layer of excitement and suspense each time I visit the store.
  5. Sell reusable bags.
    One advantage to BYO bag programs is that they offer an inexpensive way to create brand awareness and do a little advertising. All you need to do is sell your own bags featuring your logo, as retailers like TJ Maxx and Whole Foods do. Bonus: Better bags get used more frequently as customers use them for lunch sacks or shopping at other stores, increasing your branding power.

Susan Johnston is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

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