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The county in which I live and work recently adopted a 5 cent bag fee. This means, anytime you get a plastic or paper bag for your purchases, you are charged 5 cents per bag. So far, I know the change is impacting grocery stores, liquor stores, and drugstores- I don’t know, yet, if our local Mall’s big box department stores will also start charging for bags. (My guess is no, that if there is a bag charge, the big box stores may absorb it and not pass it on to the customer.)

Anyway, it’s not clear to me exactly why this bag fee went into effect; the political stance is that it’s a way of encouraging recycling and reducing waste; the more cynical folks see it as another way for the county to collect money.

Whatever the reason, this bag fee has created some interesting behavior changes, and some notable methods for accelerating the adoption of change. We can apply these in our businesses when we want to raise our fees, reshape our service offerings, or otherwise make changes we think our clients and customers will be unhappy about.

Initially, the bag fee was publicized about a month ahead of time. When it went into effect, I noticed that there was, initially, the rise of what I called the “underground bag co-op”- which, essentially, was the process of someone bringing in a set of plastic bags, and then ‘paying them forward’ to another customer, who gave them to another customer- and so on. Eventually, I guess, the bags would pass through several customer shopping rounds and then be recycled. This was one method people were using to avoid the per bag charge.

When I asked the store employees, they were unhappy about the change, especially at the grocery store. Having to count the bags used per purchase, and scan in a price per bag seemed, to them, to be an extra step, and all of them were unhappy about it.

Now, though, about 2 weeks in, I notice that the grocery stores, especially, are trying to accelerate the rate of adoption of this change in some key ways:

1) They are offering incentives for those who purchase reusable bags. Initially, this was in the form of a “buy one-get one” reusable bag offer. Buy one bag in the month of January, and get 1 free.

2) They just began a new incentive to give you 5 cents back on your grocery purchase for every reusable bag you use. I’m not sure, yet, if this is every time you shop, or just for this month.

3) They’re more fully promoting their “do it yourself” in store scanners- which enable you to scan your groceries and fill your reusable bags as you shop. So this means that all you need to do, at the end of your trip, is hand the scanner to the cashier, pay for your purchases- and wheel your already filled bags away.

This week, the grumbling and discontent around the bag fee seemed to have lessened, and people were doing their best to work within the new system.

Much has been written about the change and how people resist it. But if you want your customers to accept a change more easily, it seems like these are the steps to follow:

1) Let them know about it ahead of time, but not too far ahead. Had the stores publicized this too many months ahead, the message would have been ignored. By promoting it about a month ahead, it was front of mind for the customers.

2) Offer incentives for early adoption. In your business, this might mean offering bonuses or extras for those who adopt the new structure early.

3) Accept that people will resist initially. Depending on the magnitude of the change, and how tied they feel to your services, they may try to find ways to circumvent the changes.

4) Hold steady to the changes. This means that you’re careful not to present the changes as optional, or based on client choice, if they really aren’t. People do tend to adopt circumstances more quickly when they realize that the proposed change is the new norm.

5) Take the temperature as you go. This refers to managing your client relationships and understanding when you might need to accelerate the change, or when you might need to pull back a little bit and give it some time to settle.

While most of us, and our clients, resist change, it’s also true that businesses must adapt or perish.

If you’re considering some key changes in your business in the near future, keep these strategies in mind to make the changes easier to accept.