Whole Foods bag-refund policy seems inconsistent

Tonight I went to Whole Foods for a fast food dinner – a drink and some fruit. I was asked if I wanted a bag, to which I replied that I didn't need one. The cashier did not give me the five-cent "go green bag discount" that is generally applied for not taking a bag. I asked, and the cashier then informed me that this was only if I had brought a bag. I wasn't carrying a bag, so I didn't get the discount that I usually get for gesturing to my messenger bag (and then generally walking out with my items in my hand when it's something like a drink and fruit as it was tonight).

A manager was standing there, so I talked to him about the discount. He explained to me that the purpose of the discount was to encourage customers to bring their own bags. I asked him why the store wanted people to bring bags. He said that it saves the environment, just as I figured. I asked him, wasn't I saving the environment equally if I were to carry my items in my hands or if I were to put them in a reusable bag? He told me that the store's policy was that I needed to bring in a bag for my items to get the discount. I told him that I had been offered a bag, but declined, as I don't like to waste things. He then informed me that the bags are recyclable. Um, yes, but they require energy and resources to make and energy and resources to recycle. Not taking one at all saves exactly the same energy as putting my items in a bag I've brought in. He agreed, but said that I had to have a bag with me to get the discount.



Anonymous said...

I wonder whether you would have been given the discount had you not responded that you didn't need a bag but rather, "Hmm, let me see, I guess I'll just carry it and save a bag." Maybe they figure if you would not have used one of their bags anyway, if you don't *need* a bag, you don't get a discount for not using one. This makes sense especially for food you are obviously about to eat. Then again, why even offer a bag to you, in that case?

I often only buy only one item on a trip there, but I always shove a cheap plastic bag in my pocket beforehand and then put it on the conveyor belt at checkout with the item(s) with no discussion, and they notice that I've brought a bag and give me a discount.

kaphine said...

The same policy applies at Harvest Co-op, or at least did as of two years ago.

Anonymous said...

the five-cent "go green bag discount" that is generally applied for not taking a bag

It occurs to me that if this is not quite the criteria for application of the discount, then an argument based on this definition is going to fall apart.

I belive the discount is advertised as applying to each bag brought in and used.

eeka said...

Sure, that's apparently their definition, but in that case, they aren't rewarding all types of bag-saving behavior. If it's a "go green" discount allegedly encouraging people to choose not take a bag in order to save the environment, why should it matter what I'm using to carry my groceries in lieu of a disposable bag? They offered me a bag for my two items. They were only willing to reward the target "green" behavior if I also engaged in a behavior (using a reusable bag) that's unrelated to whether my declining of the bag is "green" or not. They aren't consistently rewarding the behavior they're intending to if there's an additional criterion.

Anonymous said...

You begin your post by incorrectly stating their policy. It looks like your argument is that the cashier did not properly apply the discount.

If your point is that the policy, not the application thereof, is inconsistent, it seems to get lost.

eeka said...

Anon, I should clarify and say that many cashiers have given me the discount when I didn't show an actual bag to put it in. Also, the manager agreed that the point of the policy is to give people a discount when they don't use the store's bags, since the bags use energy and resources.

And yes, as the headline says, the policy is inconsistent with what they're allegedly trying to reward. I didn't go into specifics about the application of the policy, but it's inconsistently applied too.

Gienna said...

You're doing a better job than me at saving the environment--I have about 800 reusable bags in my trunk because I forget to bring them into the store and just buy another one. You are right, of course, that it takes energy to create the bags. A reusable bag leaves a smaller footprint, yes. But not using a bag leaves no footprint at all.

I wonder if part of it is advertising. You carry a Whole Foods bag, you are essentially promoting their brand.

At Stop and Shop, I have seen people refused the discount because they brought a competitor's bag.

tim said...

Yup, they pretty much just want you to buy one of their bags at some point.

They probably don't want to give the discount when someone spends a couple bucks. Whole Foods isn't about going green, they're all about making it.

Bob (Highland St) said...

This is one reason I don't like Whole Foods. They miss the forest for the trees.

When they dropped plastic bags in April, I wrote a letter to their customer service explaining that this could make it hard to shop there on bike (you CANNOT carry groceries in a paper bag on a bike). It seemed that far more resources would be saved by not driving than by using a paper bag instead of plastic.

Not only did Whole Foods not change its policy --- they didn't even reply to my letter.

That is why I shop there as little as possible.

David said...

I'm a cashier at Whole Foods.

The manager in that situation was correct about the policy of Whole Foods. Personally, I like to give a bag discount if a customer decides they don't need a bag when it appears it would be onerous to do so. It shows that they're making an actual effort to save some paper, for no other reason rather than they feel like it.

If you buy a gallon of water, a slab of meat, a box of crackers and an apple, and you asked for a bag discount because you didn't need a bag, I would give it to you no questions asked. If you were to buy only an apple, and ask for a bag discount, I'd probably recite our policy to you.

Basically, my golden rule is if you bring a bag and it's NEEDED, I'll most certainly give you a discount or donation for it. I've had customers come in with about a million bags asking for that many discounts, and I've had to politely say that the discount only counts towards the bags you're USING. Otherwise you could bring 50 billion bags and get a shooping cart full of free stuff.

I wasn't there in your case, so I don't know how much "some" fruit is, or whether it was "worthy" of a batg discount no questions asked. But honestly, if you are peturbed by not getting your 5 cent discount, when all you did was point at your bag wordlessly and not even use it, you come off as nit-picky, greedy, even grumpy.

partyoffive said...

I shopped at Whole Foods for the first time today. Before that, there wasn't a store near where I lived. I have reusable bags from the grocery where store I used to shop. I did get the discount today for using them. I'm sure they really would rather I use their bags but no one cared that I didn't. As Target didn't care that I used the grocery store bags.

Lancalot said...

Is all this effort worth it for 5 cents. Seems childish to complain about a mere 5 cent bag refund you did not get.

eeka said...

No, it's not about the five cents. It's about the store encouraging people to think about the planet. The policy is rewarding the wrong behavior.