Retailer grab for profit OR would madam like to purchase a brown paper bag to carry her shopping?

It is not often we have a rave on the Stancombe blog but today, rave we will! … A couple of days ago, our local Thomas Dux decided to charge their customers 10 cents for a Thomas Dux branded bag to carry purchases home or in our case, back to the agency kitchen.

This initiative has evidently been instigated so that the residents of Paddington (long known for their leftish ideologies and keenness to save the environment and join a protest) are educated on the importance of re-use.  Really, as if we don’t know about reuse already!  Besides, paper consumption levels have declined enormously in our suburb since we all went on-line to consumer media (apologies to Fairfax and News Limited).  

Thomas Dux has missed the point. Thomas Dux is situated in the middle of a shopping drag, in front of a bus stop, near a community school and is used by local businesses and residents to do ‘top-up’, basket shopping i.e. little and often. It is far too expensive and specialised to do a trolley shop.  To be told we must bring our own (Thomas Dux purchased hessian effect) bag, pre-used Thomas Dux branded brown paper bags or pay a penalty to take our (over-priced) shopping home is wrong at some many levels. 

Locals drop into Thomas Dux on the way past the store either when getting off the bus, on the way past the Dux to conduct an errand, visit a local business or associate or when one realises one has forgotten to pick up some milk on the way to or from school pick up or an office meeting. 

Spontaneity is the key.  We don’t know about you, but we rarely have shopping bags stuffed into our pockets in case we decide to pop into the local grocer on the way past.

Thomas Dux has a massive negative environmental footprint:  A large proportion of their product range is imported (e.g. Dutchy biscuits, French cheeses, Italian cold meats, Turkish dried fruit, New Zealand frozen produce to name a few). Think about the amount of carbon produced just transporting grocery and deli items from one side of the world to the other. Many of the SKUs ranged by Thomas Dux are beautifully presented in exquisitely designed boxes consisting of multiple layers of paper and plastic (excuse me, Mr. Dux, is your hypocrisy showing?)

The Stancombe Series 2013: “What Is The New Normal” did identify a key consumer theme we called ‘Who Pays, Wins’.   This theme identified the insidious move towards a model of user pay in Australia.  The customer is increasing asked by manufacturers and retailers to carry the burden of cost and responsibility. We see this reflected in a wide range of areas: The move towards user-pays education, on-street parking meters, the cost of installing solar panels to generate (and buy back) sustainable energy, increasing compulsory super contributions, and most recently, an increase in the Medicare levy to cover new disability services (can’t argue with that one!).  

Who pays, wins is ‘the new normal’, not so much grass-roots driven movement but something that seems to have crept up on us. 

While we are seeing some resentment rise to the top as a consequence, there’s a visible rise in ‘class-consciousness’ and competitiveness seeping in.  In essence, this is about winners or losers. Ultimately many Australians are starting to understand that those who can afford or prioritise paying for what were once free services will win the game of life. They’ve clicked that if you play the game, you win at your own cost.  If you don’t or can’t, then don’t expect to live life to the fullest or access the best range of services for free.  But does this include such essentials as food and groceries?

We think not.  While people may be happy to ‘play the game’ with education, services, and even sustainable energy – food is an area where people are not keen to play “winners and grinners”.  Mr Dux, forcing people to pay for lovely re-cycled brown paper bags to carry their already pricey food items doesn’t deliver a pay-off.  It seems mean and opportunistic.

The sub-text of this rave is that we don’t buy the idea that the folk at Thomas Dux really care about the environment. The brown paper bags they have offered customers since they opened their doors cost approximately 14 cents each.  

So, madam would not like to buy a brown paper bag to carry her premium-priced shopping. Based on the outrage being expressed at the checkout, Madam is not alone.

Collaborative consumption - is it more about the people rather than the stuff?

This post comes with a cultural caveat...all examples are from the US which is in a very different place economically and emotionally right now compared to Australia.

Thanks to one of my favourite blogs influx insights, I came across this interesting post from an equally interesting blog www.brainpickings.org (well worth a look)

Click here to see the post 7 ways to have more by owning less.

To break it down, there is a emerging trend in the US around the idea of 'collaborative consumption' (also known as reciprocal alturism at Stancombe). It is another branch of the de-clutter your life / less is more movement being driven by urban hipsters, life coaches and other social commentators. (see the very hipster video below from www.giftflow.com)


Be as cynical as you like, but it appears this movement is gathering some traction in the US, see examples below from www.brainpickings.org:
  1. http://neighborgoods.net/
  2. http://snapgoods.com/
  3. http://www.landshare.net/
  4. http://www.swap.com/
  5. http://www.giftflow.org/
  6. http://www.zipcar.com/
  7. http://www.sharesomesugar.com/
If we step back and think about it, conspicuous consumption is inherently about broadcasting your status. Where as swapping and sharing goods/services (assuming you can afford to buy new stuff) is more about the relationships developed as a result of altruistic transactions. It could be argued that the altruistic transactions that help build the relationships between people are more important than the goods/services being shared, swapped and gifted.

I don't believe that we will see a shift away from conspicuous consumption (a nice pair of shoes and a good watch always does wonders for your confidence in a room full of strangers), but I do believe that swapping, sharing and gifting things like lawn mowers, never been used baby toys and food processors will tap into our fundamental human need for community, i.e. we are pack animals.

This raises an interesting business question - are you an industry where people would rather swap your goods/services rather than buy new in the future? And is this an opportunity or a threat?