Necessary Baggage: Brand Your Shopping Bags

by Envirosell

Shopping bags serve a multitude of tasks. They are ads, art, utilitarian, souvenirs, bumper stickers… Retailers who pay attention can get much more out of their bags than a means to carry purchased products from the store.

One of the first truly utilitarian uses of the bag started in supermarkets. Rather than use twice the paper, “double bagging” manufacturers created stronger, sturdier bags. As the days of having the “bag boy” fill and carry your bags to your car became antiquated, the bag needed to be more user-friendly.

Enter the bag with handles.

The first time I saw these was at Trader Joe’s (although I doubt they were the first to use them). A great concept not taken quite far enough. Just when you began to trust the paper handles, they’d rip off of the bag. Why not strengthen the bag and the handles by wrapping the paper completely around the bottom of the bag? Surely it’s cheaper than double bagging or re-bagging a torn sack.

More commonly asked than, “do you want fries with that?” is, “paper or plastic?”

Watch the serious, ponderous grip overcome a shoppers’ face at the check out when this question is broached. Surely there’s a right answer. “Quick! Take inventory: the last of the brown paper bags at home was used to catch the oil drip from the car, but we’re low on plastic poop bags for the dog.” Most stores these days will default to plastic bags if the shopper doesn’t have a preference. At my local supermarket, the ringers don’t even ask anymore; they automatically bag in plastic. They have paper, I see them tucked under the counter. At my former supermarket, one of my favorite ringers told everyone who’d listen that they should ask for paper bags to support the forestry industry in the Northwest. She said both she and her husband came from a “long line of forestry workers,” adding, “You know those plastic bags don’t grow on trees.” She’s right.

Recently in Ireland, the pristine countryside was so littered with deserted plastic bags that a law was passed to charge for the bags. All supermarkets, convenience stores, and other shops began collecting 13 cents per bag. Tesco and Ireland’s biggest domestically owned department chain, Dunnes Stores, introduced ranges of tougher, permanent bags and paper bags costing from 26 cents to $1.10.

The tax is intended to encourage shoppers to use more durable, reusable bags and cut down on Ireland’s conspicuous consumption of the throwaway variety – an estimated 1.2 billion per year, equivalent to 325 plastic bags for every resident of Ireland.

Worked like a charm.

Shoppers held onto their bags to re-use them and save a few cents. The same principle is being applied in South Africa where the plastic bag has been dubbed “South Africa’s National Flower” because of its abundance on roadsides. Much like aluminum can recycling in the US this was instrumental in cleaning the world.

The equity of the bag reflects the equity of the store and ultimately, the shopper. A quality, sturdy bag from Tiffany’s speaks volumes. This is not a bag you’d find windblown against a barbed wire fence along the roadside. This is a bag you’d find tucked neatly in a closet or used as a carry-on for a flight. This bag means that you not only can afford Tiffany’s, you wear it! New Yorkers are famous for saving shopping bags. Every time I stay with my NYC friends, I inevitably need a bag to tote something. And inevitably, my friends have a closet full of neatly folded shopping bags ranging from Ann Taylor and Banana Republic to Bloomingdale’s. The ‘good ones’ - too good not to re-use.

Perhaps the cleverest marketing strategy I’ve seen in regards to packaging came from a small shoe boutique in New York City’s Upper East Side. As its standard shopping bag, for a limited time this shoe store gave cloth bags with tailored bamboo handles in varying sizes. Bags are made of prints from conservative “burberry” plaid to whimsical ladybugs.

Very classy. Very handy. Very smart.

The logo was a subtle cloth label, much like in a garment…ala Kate Spade. This became a great insider’s secret handshake of sorts. The right people knew where you got the bag and therefore w here you buy your shoes. (Not to mention how much you paid!) The bags started showing up on the beaches of the Hamptons, on the tanned arms of New York’s in-crowd. Great marketing.

In the world of ‘tweens and teens, what you wear and where you got it are huge status symbols. A kid would gladly advertise for Nike by carrying around a cool shopping bag…if there was one. Shopping bags are walking advertisements. Nordstrom’s changes its bags for its famous Half -Yearly sale. Half of the mall is walking around with one of their sale bags and the other half can clearly see when the sale starts & ends. Like mall store windows, bags are built to be viewed from head-on. When shoppers are navigating a mall concourse, heads are down, perfectly in line with shopping bags. So why not use the “binding” the side of the bag to tell your story?

Why aren’t more retailers using their bags more effectively?

Why doesn’t the Gap make a special box/bag that fits into a locker for Back to School?

Why don’t shopping bag handles extend about 6 inches to fit over a shoulder, thereby freeing both hands to continue shopping?

Why don’t retailers have special birthday or Mother’s Day bags that can easily double as giftwrap?

Sometimes the best store design ideas have relatively little to do with the store itself, but rather with the stores’ image carried out the door.