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Steps Retailers Can Take to Have an Impact on the Environment


April 5, 2018

Maybe you’re concerned about reducing your carbon footprint. Maybe you just want to reduce the amount of physical clutter you’re generating. Maybe you want to kill two birds with one stone by reducing paperwork while creating new ways to push specials to your customers.

I don’t judge motives. But I do know that you can serve any and all of the above objectives by finding as many ways as possible to communicate with customers digitally rather than using paper.

Let’s start with one of the most obvious examples, even if it still hasn’t become ubiquitous in the retail sector: the customer completes checkout, and the clerk points out that the point-of-sale display wants an answer to a simple question: Would you like your receipt printed or e-mailed?

A certain percentage of customers will want the paper receipt. No problem. The paper spits out, the customer grabs it, have a nice day. But a growing number will opt for the e-mailed receipt. If you have a rewards program, then you’ve probably already got the customer’s e-mail address in your system. No need to enter it right there in the checkout lane. If you don’t, or they’re not enrolled in it and don’t want to be, you can always have them enter it.

Then again, the raising of the question can provide your clerk with a pretext to ask the customer if he or she wants to enroll in the rewards program, and now you’ll likely have multiple ways to communicate.

Either way, if you’ve avoided the printing of the paper receipt, you’ve saved yourself some paper and you’ve prevented the customer the need to stuff one more thing in a bag or—in many cases—stuff one more item in your trash bag as he or she leaves the store.

That really wasn’t a very productive use of a slip of paper, now was it?

So which objective did this serve? Going green? Saving money by reducing waste? Improving reach to existing customers? Why, it served all of the above. Well played, right?

Not everything you do in the green realm will produce that much of a trifecta, but most measures designed to reduce waste and improve energy efficiency will also save you money.

Depending on your facility, ceiling fans might provide just as much comfort to your customers and any live animals you have on site as an air conditioning system, or at least they might eliminate the need for you to run the air all the time. That won’t work everywhere, but in some places it will, and it will save you a ton while emitting far less carbon.

It’s a lot cheaper to insulate hot water heaters than it is to run them at the highest temperature all the time, and it uses less energy.

And while most customers will probably choose plastic over paper if you give them the option, they probably won’t stop shopping with you entirely if you only offer paper. That would not only reduce waste to landfills that takes millennia to biodegrade, but it might also eliminate your need for a vendor providing you with plastic bags.

Environmental activists suggest making a big point of telling your customers about your commitment to the environment. They think that will make your customers feel better about shopping with you and increase customer loyalty.

I’m not so sure that’s the case, for the simple reason that just about every retailer on Earth claims to be saving the planet—and most have chosen from a rather predictable list of steps by which they claim to planet-save and become the heroes of environmentally conscious pet owners.

“We care about the Earth” has become almost as boilerplate as “We give service with a smile.” Everyone is doing it, so no one is special for doing it. You won’t be either.

Customers may appreciate what you’re doing to reduce paperwork and other physical waste. Every receipt is an item they have to deal with either on their way out your door or on their way into theirs. Do you have a spot on your kitchen counter where clutter accumulates over the course of a day (or week, slackers)? How much do you appreciate the items you can dispense quickly and easily, or better yet, that you never have to deal with in the first place?

It’s not just the receipts. It’s the coupon mailers. It’s the circulars listing the specials of the week. Retailers need to communicate with their customers for all kinds of reasons, and it’s beneficial to retailers when their names and product offerings are in front of their customers as much as possible.

But if you can do that in a way that intrudes less on the customers’ personal space, they’re going to appreciate it. Your custom app can do what the circular in their mailbox used to do. Your Google ad (which they are probably seeing if they do any searches for pet products) can do what your ad in the newspaper used to do (and believe me, they’re not reading physical newspapers anymore, especially if they’re under 50).

There is nothing wrong with reminding people in your digital missives that you saved some landfill space—not to mention some space in their trash bins—by skipping the printout and pushing your special electronically. Paper was only necessary in the past because there was nothing else functional to write things down and print things on. That is no longer true, and most people are happy to deal with less of it if they can.

If it saves the Earth, boffo, but if it keeps a corner of their kitchen table clear, even better.

Of course, if your customers have cats, they have to put the litter in something. One Sunday newspaper probably cleans that thing out for six months. But that doesn’t mean you need to put a circular in there—keep it digital. They’re not going to use their laptops or their mobile devices to clean out the litter, and God knows you can’t click the stuff!

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