Branding, incentives and shopping bags

Two grocery stores use two different incentives to get people to bring in their own reusable, shopping bags. Trader Joe’s lets you fill out a raffle ticket for a monthly drawing. If you win, you get a $25 gift certificate. At New Seasons, everyone who brings their own bag is a winner. The prize? Five cents off your bill for every reusable bag you come in with.

I don’t know which incentive encourages more people to bring their own bags. Here in Portland, by my observation, it appears about equal. But the two different incentives create very different attitudes about these brands.

I never won at Trader Joe’s. I don’t know anyone who has. Every time I fill out their raffle ticket, I feel like Trader Joe’s is treating me like a lottery player (meaning, suckers who pay the stupidity tax). And I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Will  five cents off at New Season’s make or break me? Of course not and it’s easy to spend a lot of money there. But I feel like the five cents off per bag is an honest deal and that the people who make the decisions at New Seasons respect me.

The truth is that neither incentive works to get me to remember to bring my own shopping bag, and I believe that holds true for many. I do it to use less resources, reduce clutter in my house, and my insulated shopping bag keeps food better on the way home than paper bags.

That doesn’t mean these incentives are unimportant. Far from it. They are the last transaction a person has before leaving the store, and therefore have more power to make an impression about a brand than their so-called purpose of getting people to save resources. Which do you prefer? To drop yet another a lottery/raffle ticket into the box as you walk out the door at Trader Joe’s? Or be handed a receipt that shows five cents off your bill for each shopping bag your brought with you at New Seasons?

I know which store/brand I like better and would rather shop at.  Do you?


I just saw a sign at my local Trader Joe’s announcing the last drawing for the monthly $25 gift certificate will be on March 28th. A new, daily winner game will begin on April 4th. Their new incentive plan will dramatically increase the odds of winning or knowing someone who won. Good move.

About Robert Moss

I write ads: traditional, non-traditional, interactive, edutainment, story-based, broadcast, and experiential marketing events. Sometimes I write about ads and the business of advertising. Sometimes I write about other stuff. The views expressed here are solely my own and don't reflect the views of my employers. I also published a novel called Descending Memphis that's getting great reviews on Amazon. see
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6 Responses to Branding, incentives and shopping bags

  1. Pingback: Nudge blog · Assorted links

  2. Grant says:

    Hi Robert.

    I also wonder how these two methods compare with charging a small fee for the bags — the loss aversion might drive people to remember to bring the bags more than either of these methods. This is where charging a fee for the bag might actually drive the behaviour more than the other two methods.

    (FWIW, I agree with you that such incentives wouldn’t change our behaviour, as our motivations are for environmental benefit and we now have habits in place that ensure we have bags when we need them as a result.)

    Regards, Grant

  3. Which do you prefer? To drop yet another a lottery ticket, I mean raffle ticket, into the box as you walk out the door at Trader Joe’s? Or be handed a receipt that shows five cents off your bill for each shopping bag your brought with you at New Seasons?

    On the same theme, suppose you are looking for survey takers, which do you think will find more respondents
    a. 1 in 1000 chance to win the new 16GB iPad2
    b. 50 cents to fill out the survey

    Both have same expected value of 50 cents.
    When the prize is big (or shiny) we ignore the likelihood of winning and bet on it.
    May be TJ should not have changed to daily drawing but increased the prize money to $500 or an iPad.


    • Robert Moss says:

      Taking a survey is an extra chore. No one needs to do it. So iPads and other shiny objects are needed to get consumers to respond to a poll. B2B polls can offer survey results as an incentive, and usually the company sponsoring the poll will try to upsell services when delivering the poll’s findings.
      Shopping for groceries is a chore that people already do, and once someone has some reusable grocery bags it’s not much of an effort to bring them. Which is why raffles or taking five cents off does not do much to change behavior. Instead, these kinds of incentives have more power to shape brand perception.
      On the other hand, the Ikea model of removing the hidden cost of the shopping bag and giving people the choice of paying that cost or supplying their own bag does more to change behavior. Why do you think more stores do not adopt this approach?

  4. Jared says:

    Thanks for starting this important thread. I am working on a business platform to create value for all reusables during our retail experience. See most consumers see no inherent value in the reusable itself, such as when you leave the house you remember to bring your wallet, keys and phone because they have value. TraX Actions creates value on the bag, cup, container and other reusables… so they make sure to get remembered!
    I recently surveyed Trader Joe’s consumers and the raffle model is not really working all that well to change behavior. San Francisco will be begin charging 17¢ per paper bag come this October, 2012 and the SF Dept of Environment believes this will begin to really shift behavior. Oddly, the plastics industry fought hard against any price fee but the SF ban got them removed from all the $2M plus businesses in SF? They are kicking themselves now. The new revenue stream will go back to the stores… what do you think they should do with it?
    I am not waiting to see how the ban or fee works out, I am creating a platform that rewards this behavior and that leads to a more sustainable lifestyle!
    Thanks again and please follow my journeys here:


  5. Ellyn Sutton says:

    January 22, 2013: I just got a phone message that I have won the Trader Joe’s “Bring your own bag.” gift. I’m not sure what I have won; I’ll find out tomorrow. I try to remember to bring my bag with me when I shop at Trader Joe’s for environmental reasons; however, if I don’t bring it, I find some real uses for their paper bag.

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