Unintended Consequences

The plastic bag ban went into effect in Seattle a little over a year ago.  I’ve read a number of articles on the unintended consequences of the ban. They include people “borrowing” the plastic small baskets from stores to take their items home and then “forgetting” to return them; people using their reusable bags to shoplift; an increase in small item shoplifting (easier to stuff in a pocket than hassle with a bag); and of course, the spread of E. coli in germy reusable bags.

This is my own personal account of how – and WHY – the bag ban has changed my shopping habits and it is NOT good for retailers.

Plastic bagFirst, I HATE plastic bags.  No, not for “environmental reasons” The lack of body has meant that the bag doesn’t stand up, all my purchases fall out,  roll around in the trunk or under the seat in my car.   I always asked for paper bags when grocery shopping and use them to hold my recycling paper, bottles and cans at home.  The built in recycling bin in my kitchen cabinets exactly holds a grocery store paper bag.  So I’m not lamenting the loss of flimsy, annoying plastic bags.  The mandatory 5 cent charge for paper bags doesn’t bother me either.

So why have I, a former retailer and dedicated shopper, moved to nearly 90% on line shopping as a result of the plastic bag ban?

RememberBags368x552It’s the way I’m treated because I refuse to become a slave to reusable bags.  The question used to be “Plastic or paper?”  It indicated I, the consumer, had a choice and the retailer we there to serve me by giving me whichever I preferred.  Now I’m frowned upon, “You didn’t bring your bags with you today?”  I feel like the kid who forgot her homework!  The scorn of “You don’t have your own bags?” is so great that I’m going out of my way to shop in cities who have not yet adopted these pointless bans.

Yes, I’m out and about, I think “Oh, I need XYZ at home.  I’ll stop while I’m out.”  Then I think, well I better stop while I’m near my dry cleaners, hair salon – places NOT in my own neighborhood – because they won’t hassle me about needing a bag.  If my usual route that day doesn’t take me by a “no bag drama” municipality and I don’t have to have whatever it is TODAY, I’ll pop on the Amazon app on my phone and order whatever I need JUST TO AVOID THE BAG ISSUE!

I thought I was alone.  I confided this to a couple of friends at a party recently and learned, I’m not the only one!  Person after person, no, let me rephrase that – retail customer after retail customer said they were doing more shopping on line because the whole bag thing was just “too much hassle”.  One of my friends said they recently were at a drug store with 18 items and the cashier said “Didn’t you bring a bag?”  My friend said no and felt he needed to explain, he had only stopped in for one thing and then saw the other items and thought, why not, I’m here,  The clerk then said “So do you think you need a bag or not?”  Seriously – 18 items?!?  Does anyone with a brain think he’s going to carry all that in his arms and then what, dump it in the front seat of his car, find it all later after it’s rolled around during the drive home and then gather it all up in his arms again, juggle the keys to open the front door? Impulse purchases are the lifeblood of any retail store.  Unique displays are created to encourage such buying.  Having a cart full of purchases for every customer is a retailers dream!  Bags were intended to eliminate the hassles and encourage shopping!

Store closingSo to all the City Councils who have voted for these bans for whatever reasons, did you accomplish your goals?  What about the bigger – long term goals for your cities?  Do you have a thriving retail community providing jobs and oh yes, tax revenue for your community?  UPS HomeHave you helped the environment when now, instead of a simple bag I’m using a box and packing materials because I ordered on line instead?  How’s my “footprint” with that a big delivery truck  coming to my house daily – sometimes several times a day – just so I can avoid the negative customer experience at the checkout stand?

Retailers – what can YOU do to woo me back?  I realize the City has mandated you charge me 5 cents for a paper bag.  I don’t care.  It’s not about the 5 cents!!!!  It’s about the way you ask me about the bag!  Go back to the same TONE you used when the question was “Paper or plastic?”  Instead it’s “Paper or your own?”  Say it with a smile, not a head shake.   It’s been over a year now, we are used to the 5 cent charge.  Ignore it and go back to making me feel “served” rather than scorned and I’ll gladly bring all my business to you.  In the meantime, I have to go grab those Amazon boxes just dropped off at my front door.

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2 Responses to “Unintended Consequences”

  1. Judi Brown Says:

    I love this post, and this perspective on the bag ban.

    Thankfully Lakewood has not yet implemented such a ban, and we are delighted to offer all of our customers bags, or boxes, for their purchases. As a retailer I stand strongly against these bans, really from an economic standpoint. The plastic bags, imprinted or not, are affordable for even small retailers; non-woven and cloth totes are not.

    I intend to share your comments with my colleagues in the promotional products world who have been debating the bag ban matter for some time.

    Thanks Sunny!

  2. sarahmcrae Says:

    This is very accurate. I too don’t mind bringing my bags or using paper bags, it is the attitude that has changed. I can remember checkers and courtesy clerks asking politely if I wanted paper, plastic or if I had brought my own, but now it is as you said, a question of moral superiority.


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