How do customers respond to change? The 5 pence bag case study.


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5p plastic bags
About a few weeks ago, shoppers in England were required to pay for plastic bags. It is a meagre 5p cost but has led to a mega change in consumer behaviour. I have been observing customer behaviour since this change came to effect to gain a rounded understanding to how customers generally react to change- an inconveniencing one on this occasion.

1) They form new habits or rekindle an old one: Prior to this development, many customers discarded plastic bags after shopping. In recent times, I am seeing many customers reuse old plastic bags. To some, this is a new habit whilst to others, it is simply rekindling old habits. In this regard a Twitter user stated: “I may not be successful or able to provide for a family but GOD DAMN I knew stockpiling #plasticbags in a drawer would come in handy one day.”

2) They make a big deal or a fuss of the change: I once heard a saying from Nathaniel Branden which went thus: “The first step towards change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.” A few days ago a friend of mine went shopping and insisted he will not be spending an extra 5p for a bag and quality bag in this instance. He chose to carry his shopping in his hands. When a business introduces a change that inconveniences the customer journey, they may end up moaning or creating a fuss.

3) A new normal: The aftermath of most changes in life results to a new normal or an acceptable way of life. During lunch time, it is quite interesting to see well-dressed men and women hold their soup, sandwich, crisp and drinks in their hands.

4) Reduction in shopping time: In the past, people took their time to fill up their shopping cart. You see them grabbing different variants of milk- skimmed, semi-skimmed and sometimes organic. The thought of having no free plastic bags during spontaneous shopping makes a quick grab or purchase more attractive.

5) An air of confusion: we are so used to a tradition or having things the same way we’ve always had them. I visited the self-checkout of a Tesco express and was a bit confused as there were no plastic bags in the bagging area. It suddenly dawned on me that the bags are now purchased from the till point. When things change in the customer journey, without a proper instruction or guide from staff, customers get confused.

6) Taking change to social media: The emergence of social media has given everyone an opportunity to share experiences beyond immediate circles of family and friends. Any form of change that impacts the shopping experience of a customer is likely to be shared on social media. The Daily Mail and other publications ran stories of customers beating the 5p plastic bag charge by pushing their goods home in a supermarket trolley. One of such customers shared on twitter: “5p for a bag, quid (£1) for a trolley #NoBrainer #Needed6Bags.”

7) A sense of humour to make light of the change: Some people make light of the inconveniencing impact of change through the use of humour. On Twitter, one of such funny statements went thus: “Avoid the plastic bag tax, by eating everything at the checkout.” A funny but awkward tweet from a different customer, “Imagine slamming a pound coin on the Tesco counter before eating 20 plastic bags whilst continually maintaining eye contact with the staff.”

8) Looking for an escape route: Shoppers or customers could avoid going through a change process implemented by a retailer. They do this by changing from one retailer to the next or literally trying to beat the change by escaping. To make this point clearer, an Asda customer tried escaping without paying 5p for a bag and was tackled down by four men who far outweigh 5 Pounds. He tried to escape from paying 5 pounds but had to pay a price of being restrained by four men of each an average 180 pound in weight.

This change is aimed at reducing the 7.6 million bags handed out each year by retailers. The Treasury is set to make an estimated £19m income from the VAT of the bags and the rest of the money will go to retailers who could donate to charity. People react to change differently- some accept it, others find a workaround and a minority try to beat the system. It is the behavioural and psychological adjustments that people make when met with an inconveniencing change that seems more interesting. How do you react to change? It will be great to get your thoughts.

Dateme Tamuno
Dateme Tamuno (Tubotamuno) is currently working as part of the SEO and PPC delivery team for UK based digital agency, Cariad Marketing. He has also completed a book on user-generated content marketing.


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