James Lowman: ACS in action

All posts from: January 2019

State influence

Posted by: James Lowman Mon, 21 Jan 2019

There are two areas of consumer behaviour that the government is looking to influence in 2019 and which will have a direct impact on convenience stores: plastic bag use and diet choices. This raises the question: how can the government and businesses actually influence consumers?

Let’s start with plastic carrier bags, a hot topic as consumers become more aware of the impact of their use of plastics. The government has published a consultation setting out plans to extend the charge to small retailers by 2020 and seeking views on increasing the charge from 5p to 10p. ACS supports this because most of you (79%, in fact) support the same rules across all businesses.

However, does it follow that doubling the cost to consumers who choose to use plastic carrier bags will go on to halve the number of bags given out by stores? Will this penalise impulse and convenience shoppers, as well as forgetful ones? What impact will this have on the pricing or availability of bags for life? Will consumers who supported bag charging just feel unduly punished?

If these questions are complex for a fairly simple mechanism like carrier bag charging designed to tackle a collective issue, the psychology and incentives that might change people’s diet choices – that most directly impact them as individuals – look even more complex.

Measures being looked at as part of the UK and Scottish governments’ obesity strategies include restrictions on the siting of certain products and on the way they can be promoted. Whatever route the government decides to take on this, it must recognise the differences between how large and small stores operate, not least space limitations in convenience stores where, ultimately, only a small proportion of the sugar, salt and fat consumed is purchased. 

But stepping back a little, is this really the best approach if we want to make lasting changes to consumers’ behaviour? 

Look out for how the people who are positioning themselves in 2019 as potential future prime ministers and health secretaries talk about the role of government in influencing, educating and persuading people about the choices they make. Their world view could impact your business sooner than you think.

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