Plastic Bag Charges. A Game Changer for Marketers?

Behavioural Change

According to newly released government figures, use of plastic bags has plummeted since the introduction of the 5p levy back in October 2015.

The majority of plastic bags are used in seven major supermarkets, with 640 million being used in England alone.

Although huge, this figure pales in comparison to the estimated figure of 7.4 billion bags given out in 2014.

The fact that a simple and by all accounts miniscule charge would have such a significant impact within this period, must have taken even the most vocal advocators by surprise.

Whether it is a matter of principle, a genuine desire to change the world or simply cost driven – the mass public has overwhelmingly embraced the change, which is now firmly embedded in their psyche.

How then, has this significant shift in behaviour impacted on the promotional merchandise industry?

Promotional Bags

In an industry estimated at approximately £1billion in the UK alone, promotional bags rank consistently amongst the top selling promotional product categories alongside writing instruments such as printed pens.

Like the humble pen, bags are a useful everyday item used by men, women and children alike. They are available in a plethora of budgets, styles, sizes, colours, shapes and materials.

Traditionally, the most popular budget promotional bags include cotton shoppers, drawstring bags, paper bags and…printed plastic bags!

Purchasing Habits

Since the plastic bag levy was introduced, there has been a significant shift in the purchasing habits of marketers and the retail sector.

Predictably, there is a higher demand for paper bags. They do not carry the levy, plus pricing, sizing and brand-ability are closely aligned to plastic bags.

More interestingly though, savvy retailers have seized this as an opportunity to market themselves to a wider audience. Where many have simply passed on the plastic bag levy or introduced the paper version, others now offer a Jute Bag, AKA “bag for life”.

Promotional Jute Bags

Thought the ‘bag for life’ concept is not new, there has been a significant increase in the stock availability and styles within the promotional merchandise industry and retail sector.

Widely regarded as the conscientious and eco-friendly alternative to plastic shopping bags, jute bags naturally come at a premium. Whilst cynics might accuse supermarkets of simply profiteering behind the guise of corporate responsibility, the increased demand is unquestionable.

Thinking ‘Outside the Bag’

The most astute marketers have taken the ‘bag for life’ concept a step further and giveaway branded jute bags in the thousands. Expensive? Perhaps, but consider the thought process of the average shopper: If millions of people are unwilling to purchase a 5p bag, how often are they willing to part with upwards of £1.00? They would rather struggle with a handful of items, or they come prepared!

Role Reversal

There is little doubt the shopping landscape has changed in recent times. Previously, a ‘main shop’ to a major supermarket was the norm’, topping up where necessary at the local grocery store for milk and alike. However, a combination of budgetary constraints, busy lifestyles and even a backlash against the supermarkets has seen a role reversal. There is a trend towards shopping little and often, which is evident in the numerous ‘mini’ supermarkets that cropping up on the high street.  This trend has opened the door to marketers even further.

Cotton Shoppers, Tote Bags & Foldable Bags

Although not strictly a ‘bag for life’, there has been a huge increase for other shopping bags including cotton shoppers/tote bags and foldable bags.

Promotional cotton shoppers are undoubtedly the most popular and can be folded and stored easily. Plus, the introduction of heavier styles and special dyes, means the eco-friendly conscious are not limited to natural colours or a standard weight.

Affiliations

There has also been a trend toward affiliated marketing. Again, although not by any means a new concept; more and more retailers, major brands and charities are joining forces to multi-brand promotional bags…all because of a 5p levy?!