Viewpoint: Do you want to reduce waste or increase sales?
Over recent weeks there have been a couple of examples of how the retail industry remains stuck in something of a conundrum with regard to its obvious desire to flog more goods while at the same time wanting to be environment-friendly and reduce waste. By Glynn Davis, city editorSome fortunate retailers can more easily manage this fine balance - I'm thinking of B&Q and its pushing of energy-saving devices and ethical sourcing of raw materials.
But for many merchants there is a real dilemma here. Take the current 'Replace this Disgrace' campaign from Comet that seeks to find people who are still using old technology and are supposedly ashamed of the fact. A prize is offered for the most offensive bit of kit still out there in regular use.
This is a clever bit of promotion but it very much goes against the grain of reducing waste and cutting down on consumption. The devices that people put forward for the prize are obviously still working, so encouraging individuals to dump them can't exactly be good for the environment.
Another example is Morrisons and its chief executive Marc Bolland, who has sensibly been arguing that extra packaging can sometimes help elongate the shelf life of many foodstuffs so the cutting-out of packaging has to be looked at on a case-by-case basis.
He also advocates the use of improved information on packaging to help shoppers store their foods better so they last longer. Apparently research shows that as much as a third of all foods bought for use at home are thrown away.
It is great for the environment that a smart operator like Bolland is looking to reduce food waste. The only problem for his business is that any take-up of his advice by manufacturers and shoppers would surely lead to some level of reduced sales in his stores.
At the most extreme, albeit very unlikely, end the potential downside to Morrisons could be a loss of a third of its turnover, which would lead to some very disappointed shareholders.
This shows just how difficult it is for retailers to tread that fine line between convincing shoppers that they should buy fewer goods from them while also wanting them to spend more in their stores.
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