• Innes McArthur

The 'Smart Bag' That Saves The Planet (And Your Money)

Updated: Aug 17, 2020

When was the last time you left the store with your groceries in a plastic bag? Chances are you probably can’t even remember. For many of us, plastic bags have become a thing of the past, a product that instils guilt when used due to the effect they have on our planet.

In less than a decade, attitudes towards plastic bags have changed massively. Stylish, reusable ‘tote’ bags have become an incredibly popular and growing trend with eco-conscious consumers as they offer multiple uses compared to plastic bags, which have the average lifetime of about 20 minutes.

Making a name for themselves in this competitive world of sustainable fashion is Austrian start-up Goodbag, an innovative alternative to plastic bags, utilising technology and consumer behaviour science to rise above their competition. And with 120,000 bags already sold, they’re doing something right!

Standing Out from The Crowd

Colourful pink bike with flowers and reusable tote bag in a pretty street

The market sector for reusable bags has been growing immensely since the mid-1990s. From Gucci to independent sellers on Etsy, everybody is selling ‘tote’ bags. No doubt if you spend any time in a major city or on a university campus, you will see droves of young people flaunting their eco-friendly, reusable bags.

The issue with the increasingly crowded reusable bag market is that it offers little originality, with most businesses promoting identical products that, other than the print on them, have nothing unique about them.

But that doesn’t stop us from buying them in our quest for sustainability. More and more people are actively participating in sustainable consumerism. 47% of respondents in a Hotwire survey said they would ditch a brand that violated their personal values, with environmental protection being the most popular reason.

Model fashioning stylish reusable tote bag

However, as consumers we often do not see the direct good that our actions have on the environment. Down swoops Goodbag to save the day, taking advantage of the growing ‘smart retail’ market. Founded in 2016, Goodbag is implementing technology and software into their products, allowing consumers to visualise the benefits their actions have on the planet, creating incentives to continue doing so.

The emphasis and adoption of technology and user experience has allowed Goodbag to stand out from the crowd, offering an experience their competitors don’t. If their strategy is implemented correctly, Goodbag could become the leader (and innovator) of the sustainable smart-bag niche. And with the worth of the smart retail market predicted to grow to $58bn by 2025 (from only $10bn in 2017), now is the prime time to get started.

CEO Christoph Hantschk’s experience in marketing and behavioural economics has certainly helped shape Goodbag and their mission. Inspired by Richard Thaler’s nudging principle, the idea that people are more likely to act the way you want them to if they are given incentives to do so, Goodbag promote themselves as a sustainable product that solves the traditional issue consumers have of not being able to visualise and appreciate the impact their actions have.

Goodbag’s early embrace of technology and the increasingly growing smart retail market seems to have already shown to be paying off, with the EIT Climate-KIC (The EU’s primary climate innovation initiative) expressing their support for the start-up. Showing that they’re certainly a business with great potential. Being a young, and relatively tech savvy start-up, Goodbag have identified the growing importance of digital marketing, especially within social media platforms.

With the role of traditional marketing mediums such as TV and print consistently being diminished by the digitisation of marketing and society as a whole, there has never been a better time for start-ups to flourish. The accessibility of the internet and social media continues to grant small businesses abilities never before possible. With over 2000 Instagram followers, Goodbag still has room for a lot of growth on social media.

Smart Fashion. The Sustainable Match Made in Heaven?

Contactless apple pay in store

But how does one even begin to reinvent fashion, let alone something as complex as how we shop? For two students, the answer was a combination of technology and sustainable consumerism.

Each Goodbag looks like your typical cotton tote bag and, at first glance, it does nothing that other bags don’t do. So, what makes it so special? Goodbag differs (and excels) from the competition with the integration of smart technology into their products.

Each bag has an NFC chip (yes, that thing in your phone that allows you to pay contactless-ly) integrated into the logo. This allows users to scan their bag when they are shopping at partnered stores, where they can choose their reward for shopping there. The rewards include in-store discounts, planting a tree & collecting plastic out of the ocean with every bag that is scanned.

The use of NFC technology, along with an incredibly accessible app, lets shoppers see the real time impact their actions have towards protecting the environment. The innovation behind the idea aims to kill two birds with one stone; first, it appeals to the eco-conscious nature of consumers; and second, it provides meaningful proof of the positive change individual shoppers can create. Something that consumers have traditionally never been able to see.

Beyond the Consumer

Customer shopping at cafe

Goodbag’s innovation isn’t limited to only benefiting consumers and as a company, they are fully aware of the importance in their approach to B2B marketing.

Participating store owners are offered the chance to grow and gain new loyal customers who can use their Goodbag in store. It allows stores to attract new shoppers and promote themselves as eco-conscious businesses, while consumers have the benefit of seeing the positive impact their actions are having on the environment.

This approach follows a similar formula used by coffee shops offering discounts to customers with reusable cups. Benefits are present for both consumers, who get the discount on their coffee, as well as businesses, who can achieve an increase in foot traffic through the discounts they offer.

But does any of this matter? Goodbag’s technology and snazzy app are rendered useless if users don’t have stores that work with their bag. Well, with over 1000 partnered stores, across six European countries, Goodbag may be young, but they are certainly making a name for themselves. And they’re not stopping there, Hantschk announced his plans to reach 50,000 participating stores in 38 countries, as Goodbag tries to ensure that users have a variety of stores compatible with their new smart-bag.

Eco-Innovation or Short-Term Fad?

If you are anything like me, you may be thinking all that Goodbag is offering sounds a little too good. There must be caveats, surely? A smart-bag will likely bleed my wallet dry. But, with every bag priced modestly at €9.90, Goodbag not only boasts an innovative and sustainable product, but also offers it at a price similar to their competition (who offer nothing close to the same experience).

In a digital age of growing social and environmental responsibility, it was inevitable that technology and sustainability would merge into one another. But, like most brands nowadays, Goodbag offer more than a mere bag and snazzy app, they offer a lifestyle, a group of likeminded consumers with similar values to identify with. Innate in our very nature, companies in both tech and fashion have taken full advantage of a notable brand identity and the lifestyle their products offer.

Coming back to reusable coffee cups, a 2019 study found that it isn’t the discounts reusable cups offer that entice customers, it's dependent on what they see others do. Our purchasing behaviour is deeply driven by our need for social validation and a sense of belonging to the groups and lifestyles around us.

Reusable Coffee Cup

Goodbag’s has the potential to change how we, as sustainable consumers, shop for clothing and contribute towards protecting the environment. Goodbag’s physical product and their compatible app allows them to tap into the world of tech and sustainable fashion, creating their unique product lifestyle. What they offer is suddenly no longer just a bag, it is a different commerce experience, one that is sustainable and unique to Goodbag owners. A new and attractive lifestyle for eco-shopping.

Take Notes, Totes

Goodbag’s ability to identify and address the frustration with sustainable consumers and offer a solution in the form of a smart-bag (and compatible app) certainly makes it unique from their competition.

This being said, their success relies entirely on convincing stores around the world to partner with them and to capitalise on the eco/digital consumer with their marketing campaigns to acquire new customers. Only time will tell whether the ambitious start-up has a place in the highly competitive fashion/tech industry. Perhaps the mix of both industries will come as a breath of fresh air to consumers, excited by the novelty of Goodbag’s products.

Or maybe they fail to partner with stores rendering the bag as useless as the many totes that came before it. However, with support from Europe’s main innovation initiative, coupled with an impressive performance record since first launching, Goodbag may be making an appearance in your local stores soon.