retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

The Boston Globe has a story about a joint study conducted by Harvard Business School and New York University's business school into how the availability and use of reusable shopping bags affect consumer behavior.

"Using transaction and cardholder data from a single 'major' grocery chain store in California – which was not identified – the researchers uncovered several fascinating examples of reusable bags changing shoppers’ buying patterns," the Globe writes.

Among those conclusions are three major takeaways:

• People who use reusable bags tend to make more environmentally friendly and organic choices, paying a premium for such goods and helping drive growth in these segments.

• These customers also seem more willing to indulge in items like ice cream and snacks, at least in part because they feel good about their other choices; however, they also tend to be more vigilant about the food choices they make for their children, not being as willing to indulge them in sweets.

• Interestingly, people who freely choose to use such bags tend to spend more at the supermarket, while people forced to use them because of local regulations tend to spend less.

I'm a little skeptical about these results, if only because the sample seems limited - lots of customers and transactions, certainly, but things could read every differently in other parts of the country. (I love California deeply, but it usually is not representative of anything national … it is a unique place and experience.)

That said … I do think that there is a lesson here. It is better for almost everyone if such transitions and trends are organic, not dictated by government. That's not to say that government should not have a role in establishing priorities and appropriate public policy responses, but people just do better when they make such decisions on their own.
KC's View: