The Legend of the Carrier Bag

In October 2011 The Single Use Carrier Bags Charge (Wales) Regulations 2010 took effect in Wales.  Ever since, we’ve had to pay 5p for most disposable bags.  There are a few exceptions.  For example, if you go to McDonald’s you’ll be given a free bag for your chips but will have to pay for a bag for your burger.  Similarly, if you go to a petshop and buy a goldfish, you’ll have a free bag for your fish but will have to pay 5p for a bag for the bowl.

Needless to say, it’s been a very interesting transition that has had a bizarre effect on consumers.

It’s now quite common to see shoppers carrying mounds of shopping in their arms while leaving a shop.  It must be the stuff of security guards darkest nightmares.  Only the other day, I had the pleasure of seeing an elderly lady spend £65 on “delicate items” at M&S – only to be asked whether she wished to purchase a carrier bag for an additional 5p.  She promptly filled her handbag with tights and her hands with an open bundle of bras and “big” knickers, before marching straight out the door.  I can only imagine the Sid-James-worthy responses of passing men in their 80s as she furtively whisked by them on her way to the bus stop; like a scene out of “Carry on Shoplifting”.

Personally, I’ve started purchasing “bags for life” and then promptly leaving them in the house.  As a result, I’ve spent enough on Hessian bags to have paid off my mortgage, I can’t get into the cupboard under my stairs for fear of death by bag-related avalanche and I STILL end up carrying my purchases home free-form style.  The other day I found a tin of spaghetti hoops under the passenger seat in my car; a rogue escapee from my hoodie pocket.

There’s been a similarly interesting response from service providers.  While most shops have sweetened the medicine by donating part of their 5p charge to a nominated charity, some independent retailers are using the situation to enhance the experience of their customers.

For example, take my local corner shop – yes, the one with the Cash Machine!  They’ve recognised that that some of their customers loathe paying for a carrier bag.  Therefore, they’ve decided to “reward” their big purchasers and frequent customers.  How have they decided to do this?  They’ve decided to stockpile the cardboard boxes from their weekly trip to the cash & carry and then give them to “select” customers to carry their purchases.

While this might not seem to be a big deal, for many it’s a deal breaker and the reason they keep going to that shop rather than the one down the road.  As a consumer who obstinately refuses to pay that 5p (choosing instead to carry my jar of Ragu by precariously balancing it on top of my box of Shreddies), this small and seemingly insignificant gesture tells me that my needs as a customer are recognised.  This shop not only values my custom but they actually care.

Yes, you could argue that consumers need to accept the law and learn to live with it.  But in reality, for a transitional period at least, you will have people like me – people refusing to pay that 5p.  While most retailers have had little flexibility in adhering to the legislation, the fact is that independent retailers do have that flexibility.

While others have paled into the obscurity of the standard fare, some have successfully harnessed this unique opportunity and used it as a platform to enhance their customer experience…

Innovative customer service at its best.

Guest Frog: EJH

8 Responses to “The Legend of the Carrier Bag”

  1. Ange

    excellent points, well made, although the concept of customer service as a whole in Wales seems to be very different to the rest of the UK..

  2. Shaps

    Personally I stand in protest and only go shopping in Bristol now, I’m convinced the 96mile journey is better for the environment???

    Is there any update on the card machine?

  3. Richard Caie

    Ah, the “Bag for Life”. Apart from a term I have been known to use for an ex-wife, this is something that presents me with a unique challenge. The challenge being how to walk across the supermarket car park and retain a hint of masculinity whilst clutching them. Best results seem to be achieved by stuffing them under my arm. Worst results are found when holding them by the handles or resting the handles in the crook of my arm….


  4. Jo

    People in London were horrified when I told them about going home at Christmas and having no plastic bags! You’d swear I’d been to some third world country and dared to drink local water from a pond using the skull of a recently deceased rabied animal.

    I have figured out an innovative way of shopping though – if you buy a new pair of combat trousers the you can dangle the legs around your neck and fill the leg pockets with items you buy. Great idea! Might work out a teeny weeny bit expensive to buy a pair every time you go though (a bit more than 5p for a bag) but at least you’ll be prepared with ample clothing the next time you go trekking or on safari.

    My mum’s always in her element when she’s given a bag up here. My dad gets strange looks though when he reaches for his inside pocket and pulls out a string of Tesco’s best like a magician with endless hankies.

  5. The Sword

    Have you ever used Morrisons bags for Life in Tesco and vice versa? My husband has a hard time dealing with this situation and always tries to scramble enough bags together to correspond with the store we are visiting. I personally get great satisfaction from walking out of Tesco’s with my Morrisons bags. All smug like I’m getting one up on Mr Tesco.
    In reality, nobody really cares.

    Another fantastic Blog. Can’t wait for the next one.

  6. kel

    The joy of going into an English shop having forgotten a bag and not being asked if you need one and condescendingly being given one when you haven’t, is still something worth shopping over the border for!

  7. Gregla

    Bag for life -they last for a lifetime because you never use them !
    Another great blog EJH -I’m liking your work

  8. The Happy Shopper

    Great comment EJH-I was travelling from Paddington to Wales before Christmas and bought something in one of the shops at the station. When the shop assistant was folding my jacket, I mentioned that I would like a bag to go with it. I can still remember the look of bewilderment, when she replied, of course, we put everything into carrier bags. I embarrassingly spluttered something about having to pay if you are in Wales (similar to previous blogs) and felt I may as well be living in communist Russia.


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