The Latest Trendy Accessory: The Shopping Bag

Discussion
Dec 19, 2007

By Tom Ryan

For many retailers, the shopping bag has undergone a makeover. Flashier and more durable that the traditional flimsy paper bag yet still free, the bags are not only making a statement at the counter but many retailers are counting on consumers to reuse them over and over again so they become human billboards for their brands.

“It’s an unspoken goal,” Terron Schaefer, senior vice president for marketing at Saks, which just redesigned its bags to be sleeker and heftier, told The New York Times. “We want people to keep the bag.”

An extreme case is Lord & Taylor, which introduced new bags last fall featuring rich, white canvas-like paper and thick, synthetic handles. Lord & Taylor is embossed rather than printed on the side. Costing 80 cents each, more than twice the industry average, it’s been a hit with customers.

“It’s a gorgeous bag,” said Mozel Browne, 75. “I could honestly give it away as a gift.”

According to the Times, the movement away from the standard, cheap unembellished paper or plastic bags began in the 70’s, when European brands such as Cartier started bringing over sturdier bags. Companies such as Avon began experimenting with paper bags enforced with a thin layer of plastic. But not until the last several years has it gone more mainstream, with retailers such as Victoria’s Secret, Banana Republic and Swatch flaunting luxury bags as a point of differentiation.

Stores such as Macy’s and Juicy Couture have recently added touches such as plastic-coated paper while bags from Abercrombie & Fitch now feature heavy fabric cord handles. While avoiding handing them out for free like other retailers, many grocers are still selling extra-thick versions of their regular bags partly to encourage consumers to cut down on waste.

For consumers, the luxe shopping bags seem to complement rather than replace their ritzy leather handbags. Many are using shopping bags for weeks, if not months, to handle menial tasks, such as carrying laundry to the cleaners, books to the beach or lunch to the office.

Allana Cummings, 19, of Irvington, N.J., called her Lord & Taylor bag “my second purse.” An inspection revealed several wrapped gifts, a short stack of books, an umbrella and her real purse, an expensive leather handbag.

“I can put everything I need for the day in here and it will never break,” she said.

Discussion Questions: Do you think shopping bags have become a more critical part of the shopping experience? What’s driving this trend? Do you think some stores are overdoing their shopping bag makeovers?

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15 Comments on "The Latest Trendy Accessory: The Shopping Bag"


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Brian Anderson
Guest
14 years 5 months ago

The shopping bag is an extension to the brand and a great visual prop that travels with its owner. The design, (keep green in mind) is what people talk about. Beyond people, product, presentation and the sale is the bag that leaves the store. Just ask Yves Behar about the power of design.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
14 years 5 months ago

Ooooo! Juicy Couture!! Take those bags to the supermarket with you! They’re strong and hold more than those dumb cloth bags supermarkets sell. Plus, if your objective is to show off, mission accomplished!

I’m all atwitter.

Well, perhaps “all a-repulsed” would be a better description of my reaction to this “news.” Just more evidence of our obsession with exteriors rather than interiors. Implants rather than exercise. Covers rather than books. Containers rather than contents.

Audience participation time: Raise your hand if you consider yourself a normal person and have ever carried a retailer shopping bag just to show off. I thought so. Since I see no hands, this is officially a moot (i.e., pointless) discussion.

But here’s a humble observation: One could tote canned goods to homeless shelters in these wonderful bags. The residents will certainly revere the brand names, and could then use them to haul around their earthly belongings.

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
14 years 5 months ago

I would like to see a trend expansion of the Whole Foods concept and promotion of bag reuse by other stores. Their bags, heavier and slightly larger than regular plastic bags from other places, say right on the bag that they will pay you 10 cents to reuse the bag for your next shopping trip at Whole Foods. The rebate is insignificant but over a years time with multiple bags at multiple shopping trips it can add up. With the bags lasting for eight or ten uses, for people who are willing to take the time it feels like one more small personal step to save the planet. For Whole Foods’ image, the program is one more tiny but solid reinforcement of their commitment to the environment.

And then in a wholly different vein, there’s the shopping bag as protest vehicle. People all over Chicagoland are carrying treasured green Marshall Field’s bags around town as they shop this holiday season.

Justin Time
Guest
14 years 5 months ago

I understand the chic appeal to these store shopping bags. And yes, it is another way to promote their store.

But the concept of the reusable bag is both environmentally friendly,and makes good economic sense.

A&P and it family of banner supermarkets offers for sale at 99 cents each, the Elizabeth Haub Foundation reusable bags. Now in their third edition, the set of four stylish bags have become an instant hit. They are also very functional, with a set of two strap handles to make carrying the bag so much easier.

You see them everywhere, on the streets and on public transportation, and they help promote both this great foundation and the environment.

James Tenser
Guest
14 years 5 months ago

Ya gotta love this story for the way it links conspicuous consumption with Manhattan’s version of the reduce, reuse, recycle ethic.

Fancy shopping bags are really not too new. In the 80s, it became very common to observe career women in Manhattan commuting in their running shoes, carrying their power heels in bags from Bergdorf’s or Saks or Tiffany’s of the Museum of Modern Art gift shop. I believe Bloomingdale’s Brown Bags were introduced in that time frame as a kind of anti-status symbol.

No doubt, the recent wave of super-luxury bags, made of embossed, laminated stock with corded handles, are highly visible on city buses and commuter trains this season. They are both badges of prosperity and supremely practical, reusable shoe and lunch totes.

High end merchants certainly could elevate the status side of this equation, by providing their biggest spenders with even more luxurious and durable bags with art designs. I favor the “if-you have-to-ask-don’t-bother” approach–kind of like those black credit cards you and I can’t get.

Jeff Weitzman
Guest
Jeff Weitzman
14 years 5 months ago

Reusable grocery bags are spreading like wildfire as well. Most grocery stores around here offer them for $1.99. Made of polypropylene, they last for dozens of shopping trips. And yes, they provide great branding and advertising. My company just ordered 5,000 bags for our flagship site coupons.com to use as a promotional item and offer to our shoppers to use on their grocery shopping trips. It’s great when you can do the right thing and plaster your brand all over the place at the same time!

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
14 years 5 months ago

Shopping bag design has been an important marketing tool for some time. Designers and retailers have understood that these miniature billboards for retail brand are essential marketing walking around the mall and other shopping districts for some time.

For a previous teen girl client, we tried to make our smallest bag as cute as can be so that the girls kept them to carry their lunch to school in.

Whether it is for prestige, or just because the recipient likes the design, the longevity of shopping bags makes for a strategic development effort be applied to shopping bag design.

Robert Immel
Guest
Robert Immel
14 years 5 months ago

I like using the smaller shopping bags (such as the ones from Crate and Barrel) to carry my lunch to work.

Also, I bring my own canvas bags to the grocery store, since I hate the plastic bags the grocery stores use.

Bill Robinson
Guest
Bill Robinson
14 years 5 months ago

I’m so pleased that retailers are finally discovering the promotional value of the shopping bag. But there is another hurdle stores must cross regarding shopping bags–incremental sales.

Retailers want shoppers to spend a lot of time in the store and spend a lot. The shopping bag is a major deterrent to both objectives. How many times have you gone shopping, bought a few things, then decided to leave early because of the weight or awkwardness of the bags? Retailers, now hear this…we shoppers will stay longer and buy more if you make it easier for us to carry the bags.

Here are your options:

1. You can offer a secure and convenient place to store the bags.
2. You can offer a consolidated bag with one, easy on the hands, grip.
3. You can offer delivery.

If you do one of these well, your sales will increase.

Charles P. Walsh
Guest
Charles P. Walsh
14 years 5 months ago
The bag business in the US is undergoing a revolution…but our revolution is more of an evolution compared to our friends in Europe and Asia. America is the penultimate purveyor and marketer of “single use” and “disposable” commerce. Consumers have been long used to consuming product that is over packaged with components that are meant to be discarded after each use and replaced with “refills.” I spent some time in Russia a few years ago and one of the most interesting sights in the marketplaces was to see people carrying knock off reusable “brand name” shopping bags. These fake Cartier, Armani, Herrod and other highly recognizable bags were very popular with the shoppers who filled them with their potatoes, beef and tennis shoes. They used the bags both for economic and a status reasons. In most of the rest of the world consumers have been using reusable bags for a very long time. America is just not used to “re using” much of anything these days. Between planned obsolescence and just plain convenience…we just can’t… Read more »
Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 5 months ago

Every luxury retailer needs to leverage every possible tool: bags, customer service, advertising, publicity, name brands, location, etc. If a store gets it right, packaging becomes iconic. People reuse Tiffany boxes. They even sell them on eBay. Tiffany claimed that people rooted through their trash to find the blue boxes. The irony: many upscale shoppers are questioning anything not recyclable. Iconic packaging is recyclable, though…is that what the sustainability folks have in mind?

Cathy Hotka
Guest
14 years 5 months ago

Branded packaging has become a way to advertise customers’ brand preferences. This seems to be particularly true of teenagers, who want to brew their own coffee and put it into a used Starbucks cup, and carry a used Starbucks paper bag. Branded packaging items are status symbols that customers will pay more for. This is going to be a growth industry for some time.

Robert Craycraft
Guest
Robert Craycraft
14 years 5 months ago

I will echo the comments on the new Lord & Taylor bags; I see them in downtown Washington, D.C. nearly every day, and the nearest store is on the DC/Maryland border. I’ve also seen them at the airports when I travel, being used for carry-on luggage.

I lunched at Neiman’s Zodiac Room at the King of Prussia store yesterday, there were more L&T shopping bags to be seen than N-M and Nordstrom combined.

Peter N. Schaeffer
Guest
Peter N. Schaeffer
14 years 5 months ago
Shopping bags have always been a special treat offered to shoppers, once they have bought enough to justify the expense or purchased product that was too large to fit in a traditional bag. Over the years shopping bags have gone through many iterations usually in a store’s attempt to lower the cost of production. Bloomingdale’s, in a brilliant move, introduced the “brown bag” collection, an attempt to offer reverse snobbery as the consumer lusted after these relatively cheap Kraft paper bags that cleverly indicated that the consumer was a Bloomingdale’s shopper. As these bags were relatively inexpensive, Bloomies handed them out with ease. The resulting “brown bag” advertising campaign blanketed midtown for years and it is difficult to get on a subway or walk down the street without encountering one of these bags. The current frenzy to upscale the shopping bag is cut-throat and expensive. Although most stores admit they are in the mode of up-scaling they refrain from discussing the parameters for distribution of this new expensive packaging. Certainly, the consumer will have to… Read more »
Paul Waldron
Guest
Paul Waldron
14 years 5 months ago

The shopping bag from certain stores can be compared to designer jeans in the 80s. If you need to carry your lunch to work you want the bag to say Victoria’s Secret, with the pretty pink stripes or Sephora with the simple, but elegant black sturdy bag, as opposed to the white plastic bag from the local supermarket. It’s a status simple for the masses. “I shop at this beautiful store and I want you all to know it.” It doesn’t cost you anything except for the one purchase from that certain store.

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