Combining sales associate and managerial positions, I have over 8 years of experience in the retail industry. This includes multi-national brands such as H&M and Abercrombie & Fitch as well as a smaller businesses such as a stand alone boutiques. I’ve noticed that there are three ways that the majority of retail stores produce an ungodly amount of unnecessary waste. Listed below are the issues with my proposed solutions. Some are currently being practiced on a smaller scale, and some are not in practice at all. Regardless, it is all very riveting and I do encourage you to read on.

The Problem: Shopping Bags

There are way too many shopping bags being distributed. The life-span of a shopping bag can literally be minutes. One way companies are handling this is by selling store-branded reusable shoppers. This is a great way for companies to not only reduce waste, but also cut costs. I would like to see this get taken to the next level. All stores should sell or giveaway reusable shopping bags. These bags last longer and can be used for other purposes. What does that mean? It means that when I go buy a shirt at Company X and get a reusable bag I am now reusing the bag and providing Company X with some real-life product placement. Sounds good to me!

Another way to decrease the use of shopping bags is to train and develop employees at the cash-wrap. If a customer is making a purchase and is already holding either a big purse or another shopping bag from another store, employees should recognize the fact that many customers are willing to put their purchased item in their existing  bag.

The Problem: Shipping Inventory

Company X receives a shipment delivery everyday. Company X hires John and Jane to process the shipment. The procedure is not just folding and sensoring items of clothing, it is removing the protective packaging from each item. Minimally, each item is individually wrapped in plastic, and often comes with a piece of tissue paper. John removes the packaging, and Jane folds and sensors.

I propose we eliminate waste and decrease payroll. John’s job can be done in less time. How so? The only reason that every item in a shipment box is in a plastic bag is to prevent water damage. Using plastic is unnessary. Shipment boxes are only in transit for a few days, if that. I suggest companies switch to using biodegradable bags for the job. Also, instead of individually wrapping each item, place multiple items in one bag. This reduces shipment processing time, and will reduce the size of landfills.

The Problem: Paperwork

I love Apple stores. Mainly, because they rarely print out receipts! What a wonderful idea. Of course I promote all stores getting into this habit as well.

Another heavy hitter when it comes to paper trails in the retail world is the amount daily waste. There are checklists, standards booklets, HR updates and so forth. Yes, all of this is important information. However, most of it can be provided on a server which can be accessed when needed. The problem is that most retailers do not invest in the latest technology and it is faster for information to be looked up in a binder rather than on the server. Binders should be minimal and contain information that will not need to be updated every other week.

There are a lot of examples of how companies can reduce their paper trail, but the suggestions I have are more based on individual company situations. My advice is not rocket science though. If one employee at every major retailer were to have the world ‘Sustainability’ in their title, there could be a lot changed with little effort.

I could go more into depth, but the point is that there are many many things that retailers could be doing that not only reduce waste, but also impact operational systems in a positive manner.