It's no surprise that retailers are becoming increasingly enthusiastic about reusable shopping bags. After all, environmentalists have been saying for years that they clog landfills and kill marine wildlife, and cities around the U.S. have either banned them or are considering doing so. What's new is the way that stores are seizing an opportunity to use the bags to refine their relationship with customers.
Wal-Mart, which has been selling the bags since 2007 and says it has already eliminated the need for one billion plastic ones, says it will step up its commitment by reducing the costs of its bags in the U.S. A new blue one--which holds up to 22 pounds--will sell for 50 cents starting next month, and a black one, which can tote up to 35 pounds, will sell for $1.
"For Walmart's identity, these bags make perfect sense--they are a great value, and they fit right in with the store's image of not wasting money," says Erin Read Ruddick, client services director for Creating Results, a strategic marketing company in Barrington, RI. "Not wasting things is just good Yankee thrift, and it goes to the core of the chain's identity."
But by incorporating an affinity element into bags, Ruddick says, stores can go even further so consumers get to say something about themselves beyond, "I'm a green person and I shop at X or Y."
For example, Giant Eagle urges its shoppers to "Go Green, Go Team," and is offering the bags with such logos as the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Cleveland Browns, and the Ohio State Buckeyes. And the Whole Foods bag, available Oct. 15, features a charcoal sketch of a tree with words written by Crow woven into the artwork.
Consumers "are looking to make a connection, and it's a way for brands to speak right to people's core values," Ruddick says. "You're not just asking them to walk around with your logo; the bags give them a chance to say something about themselves. It's very smart."
Wal-Mart's comprehensive bag reduction strategy is being developed in partnership with Environmental Defense Fund; Whole Foods is working with the Natural Resources Defense Council.