Mumbai: In department store chainShoppers Stop Ltd’s research for a rebranding exercise, consumers said whenever they saw any black-and-white bag they thought it was from the store. Every time they saw a wave pattern on a bag they thought the same thing. That is because the chain’s black-and- white-wave-patterned bags had become its identity over the last 17 years.
While the retailer had asked Bangalore design firm Ray and Keshvan Pvt. Ltd to come up with anything they thought would work, “soon it became clear that we would stay with black and white,” says Shital Choksi, head, marketing, at Shoppers Stop. Now, the chain not only has a new set of black-and-white shopping bags but also has a set of limited edition bags that have graphics of Audrey Hepburn in the iconic film Breakfast at Tiffany’s and John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. A month later, people have begun calling Choksi asking for the Breakfast at Tiffany’s bag.
Shoppers Stop not only has a new set of black-and-white shopping bags but also a set of limited edition bags that have graphics of actors in iconic films
Others made a shopping trip just to get the Travolta bag. And Shoppers Stop is not the only one. Retailers are increasingly spending more on creating splashy and sturdy bags that will make a statement about the store and serve as advertising for it.
With several new brands such as French Connection, Calvin Klein and Miss Sixty entering the market, retailers feel the need to create a distinct brand identity for consumers to remember them by. The flimsy disposable bag is now at the forefront of this rebranding, with retailers spending up to Rs30 for a paper bag, much higher than the industry average of Rs3 a plastic bag.
“When a brand like Wrangler has to compete with big international brands such as Calvin Klein, French Connection and Guess, it cannot afford to look cheap,” says Prashant Kanyalkar, creative director at Alok Nanda and Co. Communications Pvt. Ltd, a brand consultancy that has worked with Wrangler, Lee and Barista among other brands.
While more competition has made it a harder and more expensive proposition for a bag to stand out now, first-generation department stores did have a fan following earlier.
South Mumbai stores Amarsons and Benzer often had customers asking for extra bags around festival time so that they could reuse them to carry things and as a show of their status. “If you walked around with an Amarsons or Benzer bag, it meant that you belonged to a certain socioeconomic class,” said Anand Halve, cofounder of Chlorophyll Brand Communications Consultancy Pvt. Ltd.
This was also true of sturdy plastic bags sporting branding for Marlboro cigarettes and Dubai Duty Free. The “cult bags” became so popular that most local grocery stores stocked knock-offs, usually sourced from some manufacturing unit in Ulhasnagar outside Mumbai.
Indeed, status is driving retailers once again. So, Alok Nanda’s Kanyalkar says retailers now spend on thicker quality plastic bags, plastic-coated paper bags, biodegradable bags or embossed bags in a bid to get consumers to reuse them. And to get the most return on investment, retailers now display their latest collections on bags. “A shopping bag is part of the armoury available to a marketer,” says Chlorophyll’s Anand Halve. “People are now realizing the importance of using this medium to its full potential.” So, not only is there more branding in a bag, retailers also want consumers to reuse their bags so they serve as a walking advertisement. Shoppers Stop, for instance, put a weekend supplement of a newspaper in its new shopping bag and delivered it to the newspaper’s subscribers. By evening, its bags were seen around the city conveying the change in image. Wrangler puts images of every new collection on its bags.
“A shopping bag provides the retailer with the opportunity to package, under its own brand, the products it stocks and sells. As such, it enables the retailer to communicate the personality of the store brand outside of the store environment,” says David Blair, managing director South Asia, Fitch, a design company under the WPP group. For instance, retailers increasingly use shopping bags to convey their social consciousness. While The Body Shop sells cloth bags at its store, Mumbai-based apparel retail chain Cotton World offers shoppers the choice of adding Rs10 to the bill in exchange for an eco-friendly cloth bag.
But however much of free advertising they may get from their shopping bags, retailers do spend on them judiciously. Hitesh Parikh, whose company Pushp Polybag Pvt. Ltd manufactures plastic bag for retail chains such as Shoppers Stop, Big Bazaar and Reliance Retail, says that while retailers are spending approximately 2% of their turnover on carry bags, few are willing to go overboard. “There aren’t many takers for biodegradable plastic bags which cost 30% more than the regular bags,” he said.