Lesson Learned: Thrifty Foods Customers are Passionate about Plastic

Ever had an experience with social media when it feels like the boat is filling with water and you don’t know where to start?  This has happened to me a few times – here’s the story of the first “boat filling”.

Last year at Thrifty Foods, we experimented with bringing back plastic shopping bags.    When we removed plastic shopping bags from our stores in 2009, we were proud to be the only area store that had voluntarily taken them out of stores.

Since removing them, we continue to receive comments from customers who want to have bag choices at the checkout. At the same time, many of our customers have adopted our reusable bag philosophy and bring them in without fail. And then there are those who just plain forget for one reason or another. To bring awareness to the issue of single use vs. reusable, we decided to test the waters by bringing back plastic bags in 3 of our stores in the lower mainland.

This was an interesting experiment from the beginning.  We didn’t promote it either way, and within a few days, the posts began on our Facebook page.  Word had spread fast about the experiment – and our audience on Vancouver Island (our oldest and most loyal customers)  let us know their thoughts.  To say they were disappointed was an understatement.  They were the first members of our audience to respond, and then everyone else let us know their thoughts.  An explosion of Facebook posts, tweets, emails and phone calls began within days of the bags arriving in store.

Here’s a snapshot of one of our posts as the comments began to pour in.  We wanted to let everyone know we were listening – this post generated 64 comments!

We kept all of it – every single social media post.  In addition to the posts on our profile, we compiled the statistics on the posts on every news outlet’s page as well.  We’d become the subject of poll questions, tweet questions, news stories, comments on new stories, and on and on.  Comments and feedback well into the hundreds.

For someone in my position, this is both nerve-wracking but also invigorating.  A surge in comments from our customers – giving us feedback on Facebook and on Twitter, both options which weren’t in use just 6 months before (we launched our Facebook page in April, 2011, this was now August).  The digital age is truly staggering sometimes, isn’t it?

A report containing all the posts was packaged and given to our leadership team – they were weighed with all the calls, letters, and emails received to our customer service centre and comments in-store.   There were many comments against the bags – but many comments from customers that applauded the choice and wanted them to stay.

This was a big milestone for us – it was the first time that social media gave the chance for our customers to have their voices heard (in large numbers!).  It was the first time we had the chance to listen and respond on an issue that matters so much to our customers.

In the end, the decision was made to end the pilot and remove plastic shopping bags from our stores.  Did all these comments make a difference?  Yes, most definitely.

Sarah Roberts

Sarah Marlayne Roberts is a public relations and digital media strategist based in Victoria, BC. She has extensive marketing, social media, public relations, and special events experience from her work in television (CTV Television, Canadian Idol, Juno Awards, The Bachelor Canada) and with some of Canada’s most vibrant brands including The Edmonton Oilers, the legendary Hudson’s Bay Company and now, Thrifty Foods. Her focus at Thrifty Foods is on the company’s digital presence including the web and social channels, working to reflect the in-store experience online. In her spare (?!) time, Sarah also blogs about pop culture and other stuff you shouldn’t live without at STUFF by Sarah and works with small business clients on maximizing their online presence.

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