Should Consumers Pay for Non-Woven Bags with Brand Marketing?

August 22, 2022

When going out for shopping, chances are that you either made plans about it well in advance and carried an extra bag from home for your purchases or well, made a shopping decision on a whim and paid additional money for a carry bag. The spontaneous shopping decisions have led many to shell out extra on carry bags costing as high as $2.

Whilst the Council continuously advocates for sustainable consumer choices – to ensure that their consumption patterns and behaviors do not harm the environment and encourages consumers to carry their own bags, there are occasions when they tend to forget. This is where the duty of care for customers come in. However as observed, businesses now sell carry bags as a commodity making thousands of dollars – which used to come for free prior to 1 August 2017.

Cost of Non-Woven Bags
Unfortunately, things do not always go as planned. It must be a familiar story for many consumers. You go for shopping, buy something eye-catching from a popular brand on a whim, and since you did not bring a bag with you, end up paying additional money for a carry bag. At times consumers spend hundreds of dollars in a particular store – and are then asked to pay for bags at the check-out counter
These bags can cost as high as $2 which is of no use in future. It should be noted that non-woven and other similar types of bags do not attract the plastic bag levy of 50 cents. So, the entire revenue from the sale of these bags goes in the business’ pockets. Surprisingly, few years back the same bags were being provided to consumers free of cost.

Should consumers pay for it?

Most consumers must have noticed that almost every business retailing nonwoven and other similar types of bags have their brand, logo, slogan, contact details, store location and/or other information prominently printed on it.
So, What’s the Debate?
Here’s the conundrum; now that you have unwittingly ended up advertising the brand by carrying around a bag with an extra-large display of its logo, should you have paid for it in the first place?

Retailers/shopkeepers charging for plastic/paper/cloth carry bags with their Brand logos printed on them for which the consumers have to shell out extra amount from their pocket maybe seen as an unfair trade practice as it results in undue profiteering at the expense of the ordinary Fijians.

How does businesses benefit?
Businesses engaging in this practice is using consumers as an advertisement tool every time the consumer carries the bag. As a result, businesses are investing in building their own brand and compelling consumers to pay for it.

Are businesses ‘double dipping’?
The bags are bought by businesses from manufacturers in bulk; potentially with discounts attached to it. These bags are then sold to consumers. However, the Council’s investigations via mystery shopping have revealed that these bags are not sold ‘at cost’ to consumers but at a profit. Hence, in actuality the non-woven bags are just like any other product a business retails – it is meant to generate profit. Notwithstanding, the bags is then carried around by the consumers; viewed by hundreds or even thousands of other consumers. Hence, in simple words, consumers end up marketing for the business.
However, when businesses engage in marketing via radio, television, newspaper, celebrities or any other medium; they are required to pay. So, one may ask, why are the consumers paying for marketing in this instance?

When is it okay to charge for bags?
The Council, as the Voice of Fijian Consumers does not have any issues if businesses charge for non-woven bags. However, if businesses are charging for it, they should remove their marketing and promotional materials from it; they cannot be double dipping.
Businesses need to practice ethical marketing and charging consumers for their brand marketing does not fall within the ambit of ethical marketing practices – it is far from it.

Are all businesses charging for bags?
Through the Council’s market surveillance, it can be confirmed that there are certain businesses which are giving the carry bags free of any cost to the consumers. Now, for such businesses, it would be understandable if they place their brand marketing on the bags – as they are totally bearing the cost of it; this is acceptable and commendable.

What is can other businesses do?
Businesses can answer our call to stop charging for non-woven bags with brand marketing. They can do the right thing and not use consumers as a proxy to build their brands; this should be done through ethical and fair marketing and business practices.
If a few businesses can do the right thing and provide bags with marketing materials free of cost to consumers; why can’t others?
The Council wants to work with businesses. Over the next few months, the Council will be inviting and encouraging businesses to change their modus operandi towards consumer centrism and urging them to voluntarily abolish this practice.
As a matter of fact, businesses can market themselves as being consumer centered and removing such costs on bags – so they can even benefit from this move.

Council’s message to consumers
Firstly, the Council is reminding consumers to carry their own bags so that they do not end up paying up to $2 for a bag. Remember, if you buy 5 bags per week costing $2 each, you will end up spending more than $500 per year on bag!
So be a smart consumer, carry your own reusable bags.

For any queries, consumers are encouraged to contact the Council on toll-free number 155 or lodge a complaint using the Consumer Council of Fiji mobile app.