This week on Monday 5th October 2015, the English high street was changed forever. You may think I’m over-exaggerating…well maybe I am a bit but not a lot. If you haven’t guessed yet what I’m talking about, it’s the introduction of a 5p charge for plastic bags (and by the way, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland already have the charge in place so I’m not being discriminative!)
Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a rant about how I don’t want to pay for my carrier bags. I’m completely behind the concept and I know that landfills around the country are piled with plastic bags that won’t bio-degrade in our lifetime. It makes perfect sense for supermarkets and I’ve been using my ‘bags for life’ for years and have looked down my nose at those people filling their car boots with loads of plastic bags.
I was compelled to write this blog though when I learnt that the initiative is not only for supermarkets but for all retailers with 250 employees or more and this means that the vast majority of high street chain shops will now be charging for their bags. So whether you’re just popping out to buy something in your lunch break or wanting to spend all day Saturday on a spree, you either need to remember to bring enough bags or you just have to pay up.
If you do bring your own bags, what’s interesting now is that all opportunity for the retailer to have their brand ‘out there’ on display is gone. You could go into John Lewis and put your purchase into your Poundland bag for life because that’s the one you just happen to have with you. Now, nobody knows you’ve bought anything from John Lewis and the store has lost a chance to grow its brand awareness.
Picture the high street on a normal Saturday, let alone the Christmas period when it’s teeming with people. Everyone has multiple carrier bags, all of them shouting out to passers by – ‘Look! Someone has bought something from my shop – it must be good! Why don’t you visit and find out?!’ When it’s a Sale bag, it’s even more demanding of attention and in fact, many people use the knowledge of other people’s carrier bags to enquire to them about the location of a particular store.
It’s going to be interesting to see how this manifests itself over time. Sainsbury’s has already caused controversy by exploiting a legal loophole and replacing all its old flimsy plastic bags with durable ones for 5p which can replaced for free when they wear out. With this approach, they are now no longer obliged to give the profit to worthy causes. It’s also turned ugly for Tesco with a shopper filming 2 security guards approaching her as they accused her of stealing when she tried to use the basket to carry her shopping to the car. Another customer has been banned from Asda for the same action. This is the situation for supermarkets but the real battle is going to be in towns and city centres.
Primark is already one step ahead of the game with its environmentally friendly paper bags and I could see many more big brands following suit or an influx of ‘designer’ bags for life with competition for retailers to bring out the best one. Whatever the case may be, it’s clear that retailers will need to be much cleverer in how they bring their brand from the store into the high street.