The carrier bag charge comes into force in England today (5 October). What can large retailers do to ensure that customers are at the centre of this policy, asks Andrew Shapiro from Cirrus

Despite campaigns designed to reduce usage in recent years, the number of single-use plastic bags handed out by UK supermarkets has increased for the fifth year running to 8.5bn, according to figures from Defra.

Charges have of course already been introduced in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – and use has reduced as a result.

There is no doubt that for some customers, paying for a carrier bag may be seen as a bit annoying or inconvenient. But many major retailers are actually seizing the opportunity to connect more with customers and provide choice.

Most big discounters have always charged for bags, and most customers accept this. It’s the choice they make when paying less for groceries, and a deal they’re willing to accept. It’s transparent, and customers value that.

Many big supermarkets now have increased plans to donate plastic bag charges to charity, sometimes giving the customer choice over where their financial donations go. Tesco, for example, plans to use the £30m it expects to make from the charge to fund a range of schemes chosen by its customers. And of course many big retailers already incentivise customers to reuse and return bags with financial incentives.

Retailers can of course communicate the wider benefits to customers too: the UK government projects a reduction of £60m in litter clean-up costs and £13m in carbon savings. Presenting the facts, offering choice, and communicating openly helps customers to understand and engage with the new policy.

In a highly competitive environment where forming meaningful connections with customers can build all-important loyalty, many big retailers are seeing the charge as an opportunity rather than a threat.

Andrew Shapiro is client partner at Cirrus