5 Ways to Encourage Customers to Bring Their Own Bags

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.

About Susan Johnston

Susan Johnston is a freelance writer and blogger who specializes in writing about business and personal finance. Her articles have appeared in or on The Boston Globe, Dance Retailer News, GetCurrency.com, Mint.com, PARADE Magazine, WomenEntrepreneur.com, and other places.
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11 comments
pursetemp
pursetemp

How have you create these ideas! Oh, these are excellent. I have started to apply and waiting for the result. Thank you so much.

Donna Hull
Donna Hull

Great ideas, Susan. My biggest problem is remembering to bring my cloth bags with me.

ruth pennebaker
ruth pennebaker

Thanks for writing about this important issue. Every incentive will help.

MyKidsEatSquid
MyKidsEatSquid

I love it when retailers offer incentives for me to bring my bag along. At Trader Joe's they enter you into a weekly raffle (I've never won). But other grocers will refund 5 cents a bag. Every little bit helps.

Living Large
Living Large

I think this is such an important topic. We've been using cloth bags for nearly 25 years now and it is one of the smallest things we could all do that would have such a big impact!

merr
merr

I can tell you that, in Russia, they simply charge for any bags you do not bring in yourself. I remember feeling this was absolutely unbelievable! (That was 10 years ago or more.) Not anymore!

Jennifer Margulis
Jennifer Margulis

Love these. Our Co-op also went the penalty route -- charging 10 cents per bag but offering reusables to buy at cost. The amount of waste reduced in one month was staggering. And awesome!

Alexandra Grabbe
Alexandra Grabbe

Thanks for writing about this topic. There are those of us who feel really strongly about elimination of the plastic bag for shoppers. Personally, I feel something close to revulsion when a checkout person offers me a plastic bag. Locally, on the Outer Cape, we are trying to raise awareness and encourage stores to put up signs in their windows to remind shoppers to bring their totes. I find it really useful to have a Chico bag pouch in my purse. If I happen to forget my basket - I shop with a basket like in France where I used to live - then I pull out the Chico bag.

Susan Johnston
Susan Johnston

@Roxanne: That's another way to do it! I know some stories in Europe have adopted that model but I hadn't seen that in the US.@NoPotCooking: I have some nylon reusable bags that I can just throw in the clothes washer and they're very sturdy. (Plus, they fold down small enough to fit in a tiny purse.) They were a bridesmaid's gift from a wedding I was in a few years ago and I still have them.

NoPotCoooking
NoPotCoooking

I think Whole Foods gives you a small credit when you bring your own bags which you can apply to your total or donate to charity. I am concerned about the high levels of lead in these bags though. I always wash my hands when I get done unpacking. I've also read they have a lot of bacteria on them. I am afraid to wash them though since they feel like they might fall apart.

Roxanne
Roxanne

We also have stores nearby that simply do NOT provide bags for shoppers, so you pretty much have to bring your own.

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