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Bags of Change- Over the shoulder ethical loyalty scheme 26.04.07

Bags of Change

A cool organic hemp-cotton tote bag that gives you 5% discount on Fairtrade and organic products in your local independent shops- not accepted at any large multiple superstore.

Think loyalty schemes and airlines frequent flyer points and supermarket cards spring to mind, the plastic cards fill up your purse and once in a while you may get a cash back offer. In return for the paltry rewards offered by the retailers we the consumers are effectively handing over a huge amount of information about our lives free of charge to the giant databases of the superstores. They in turn use this information to build up marketing profiles, layout their stores and advertising campaigns to maximise their effectiveness to prise money from us.

In short most loyalty cards return little to the user and give lots to the big retailers. On the other side of the street independent retailers have neither the resources nor the economies of scale nor for that matter the time to use all the tools of modern database marketing. Retailers committed to provide local produce, organic food and textile let alone Fairtrade have a big hill to climb, despite the explosion in ethical consumers, building a customer community takes time, commitment, energy and patience.

According to the New Economic Foundation 20% of corner shops, grocers, high street banks, post offices and pubs closed between 1995 and 2000, that is 30,000 small businesses serving local communities, with a further 28,000 closing between 200 and 2005. The death of these vital community building institutions and their replacement by ‘identikit’ shop have created clone towns were an observer would have difficultly telling one town centre from another, with the large superstores dominating the major access roads. In 1961 there was 116,000 independent grocers, in 1997 this had fallen to 20,900, in the same period the number of butchers fell from 25,300 to 8,344. Between 1997 and 2002 specialist shops like bakers, fishmongers and butchers closed at the rate of 50 a week, according to Joanna Blythman in her book Shopped.

Bags of Change is a loyalty scheme designed to support the local independent ethical retailer. Retailers pay a one off sign-up fee of £45 and then an annual membership fee of £90. Individual members of the scheme buy the bags either in the shop or online for a price of £14.85, they then receive a discount of every time they turn up with the bag at affiliated shops. Members also receive a targeted monthly e-mail newsletter with the latest information about local shops and special offers. This offers the retailer highly targeted low cost and convenient marketing and the shopper with all the latest news from their area.

For a minimal cost Bags of Change offer independent ethical retailers a highly targeted marketing tool as well as offering individual members a real immediate saving for their loyalty. During the start up period the retailer sign up fee has been wavered and the annual subscription fee is only charged after the first six month.

Naturalchoices caught up with co-founder Hugh Willbourn at the Natural Products Fair in London, “The aim of Bags of Change is to unite the independent ethical retailers to provide an easier, cheaper and ethical alternative to supermarket shopping”. “I wanted a vehicle that would make shopping ethically as easy as possible- so it would be even more attractive, the response has been fantastic”. said Faith Simpson, co-founder.

Its early days for Bags of Change, and it success depends on reaching critical mass in terms of sufficient affiliated shops to provide choices to the members and enough members to provide a good return to the shops. With over a third of British shoppers now saying that they would buy ethically if given a choice Bags of Change have launched into a receptive consumer markets, and the low cost for retailers means that price should not be a barrier to give the Bag a go.

Peter Shield

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