Thursday, May 1, 2008

Green Retailing Report: UK Supermarket Chain Waitrose Creates A 'Reusable-Bag Only' 'Green' Checkout Lane in One of Its Stores

A Waitrose supermarket in the United Kingdom town of Chesham has introduced what the upscale food retailer is calling a "green till."

The Chesham branch of the Waitrose supermarket chain has created a "green" checkout lane which can only be used by customers who either bring their own reusable shopping bags or previously received single-use plastic or paper carrier bags to be reused in the store.

No single-use carrier bags will be given out at the "green" checkout.

The move by the Chesham Waitrose is in part a response to a campaign in the town to get the city's lawmakers to ban the use of single-use plastic carrier bags in that community.

A local group called CarryAbag is campaigning for a law that would ban retail stores in Chesham from giving out single-use plastic carrier bags to shoppers. It's the town's goal to be plastic bag-free, either with voluntary compliance by retailers and residents, or eventually through a law banning the single-use plastic carrier bags.

CarryAbag is even linked on the town's official webpage, where it sells an attractive "CarryAbag" canvas reusable shopping bag.

Julia Brammer, a spokesperson for the CarryAbag group, said the organization welcomes the Waitrose supermarket's "green" checkout lane idea.

"It's absolutely brilliant they're taking the issue of bag use seriously and are doing something to encourage shoppers to use their own bags," she says.

Chesham, a town of about 20,000 residents, is a very "green"-conscious community. In fact, in 2006 the town adopted its own comprehensive environmental policy, which you can read here.

Chesham also is a "Fairtrade" town, meaning it's the city's official policy to support Fairtrade goods and services. The town was the first in Buckinghamshire to achieve Fairtrade status when it did so in 2005. Fairtrade status is granted to towns, organizations and businesses in the UK by the UK Fairtrade Foundation.

We think the Waitrose supermarket in Chesham's idea to create a "green" reusable shopping bag lane in its store is a good one.

Like "express" lanes for shoppers who only have ten items or less, it offers a priority to shoppers--in this case for exhibiting positive environmental behavior. It's also a reward in the form of faster checkout service for doing so.

The "green" checkout lane concept, which we haven't seen any other supermarket adopt as of yet, reminds us of freeway carpool lanes in concept. Drivers are rewarded for carpooling (positive environmental behavior) and thus allowed a special lane on the freeway, which always has far less traffic in it than the other lanes. In some countries drivers of hybrid vehicles also can use the carpool lanes.

Both of these concepts--the carpool lane for drivers and the Waitrose Chesham reusable shopping bags-only lane for customers--create an incentive for consumers to behave in an environmentally positive manner.

Human beings like and respond well to positive reinforcement--and as such we expect the Waitrose store's "green" checkout lane to not only be popular, but to change shopper behavior over time. Once many of the supermarket's customers notice the "green till," and how much faster its users are getting waited on, they will start to bring their own reusable carrier bags to the store.

We think this is a winning idea Waitrose should expand to its other UK supermarkets. It's also a great idea for grocery retailers throughout the world--especially in the U.S.

It would be simple for a typical supermarket that has say 12 checkout lanes, to convert one or two of those 12 lanes into "green lanes," in which only shoppers with either reusable shopping totes or their own "reused" single-use plastic or paper carrier bags could use.

We believe the "green" lanes would be a big hit. Further, the U.S. supermarket chain that does it first, for example, is going to have a competitive advantage--at least until others follow suit--and generate lots of publicity over doing so.

The idea is equally good for other UK supermarket chains like Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury's, which all have promised to reduce the amount of single-use plastic carrier bags they use in their stores by 25% by the end of this year.

In fact, Sainsbury's CEO Justin King recently announced the retailer is looking for ways to create incentives (carrots not sticks in his words) to get shoppers to request fewer single-use plastic carrier bags rather than to see the UK impose an outright ban or a per-bag charge on the carriers.

The Waitrose "green" checkout lane--which shoppers can only use if they bring their own bags--seems to us to be a very good and innovative carrot.

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