How do zero waste shops improve the customer experience?

By 18th May 2020April 15th, 2021Responsibility
zero waste shops

You may think zero waste shops are a relatively new concept. And yes, there may only be 400 stores in the world. However, if you were to go back 80 or 90 years, you would find that many shops did something very similar. In fact, it was the norm for shops to actively encourage their customers to reuse glass bottles and bag their own fruit, vegetables and groceries with paper bags.

So where did it all go wrong? Why did it stop? More importantly, why is this style of shopping now back in demand?

The answer is simple: plastic.

Over the last 50 years, there has been a massive focus on offering customers more for their money i.e. foods that last longer and don’t go off as fast. In their quest to fulfil this need, manufacturers grabbed onto plastic, Styrofoam, cans etc. and used them to help revolutionise the food industry. Yet, in their wake they have massively damaged our environment and have filled it with products that will biodegrade – if we’re lucky – in 50+ years. As you can imagine, this has led to a rise in pollution that continues to negatively affect wildlife and the planet.

In 2018 alone, we witnessed the heart-breaking story of whale in Indonesia that died as a result of swallowing 1000’s of pieces of plastic. Similarly, the media is constantly filled with images of turtles with straws stuck up their noses and wildlife trapped in plastic. The Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year captured this sad reality with his Sewage Surfer image.

And the cause? Us.

Knowing all this, it should come as no surprise that we are seeing a rise in businesses who are looking for ways to combat the growing disposable plastic problem. From encouraging customers to reuse their shopping bags, to enticing them to take a holistic approach to shopping – zero waste shops pose the perfect solution.

In one compact, already proven system – think about it, we used this shopping style for centuries until plastic packaging came into play – we can dramatically cut back on plastic, and prevent more of it from getting into the environment.

How does zero waste shopping work?

The idea behind zero waste shopping is to eliminate packaging for food and non-food items, and make the whole experience completely plastic free.

From serving pasta, grains, seeds and dried fruit in hoppers, to getting customers to pump washing up liquid and laundry products into old squeezy bottles, to offering customers natural alternatives i.e. bamboo toothbrush holders; within zero waste stores, consumers are actively encouraged to reuse any containers they already have, and if possible, go completely natural by using packaging that will easily biodegrade (without harming the environment). In doing so, we can positively lower everyday consumption and protect the earth.

For instance, one store in Bali (run by Silvija Rumiha) has prevented the use of 2,500 bags and has stopped 12,000 pieces of single-use plastic packaging from going into the ocean in its first 5 months. Imagine what 100’s of stores can do?

How can zero waste shops help to improve shopping experiences?

  • They are a community experience – quite often zero waste stores start off with a crowdfunding campaign that aims to get the local community involved with establishing the business. This helps to create a strong sense of investment that goes beyond them just shopping there. If anything, their involvement in the creation of the store, will make them more impassioned, engaged and committed to helping the store succeed i.e. they will feel more connected to the store, as well as will feel a sense of pride and satisfaction in its success.

This will feed into their shopping journey and make it more of a social experience. The Newt are a great example of this, they grow and cook produce on site, their packaging is considered, and they even specially bake one local old chap a load that’s almost burnt because “that’s how he likes it”.

  • Support a holistic, sustainable lifestyle – these stores are unique and vastly different from traditional retailers because while they help to supply local and organic products (from farms, bakers, etc.), they are still very niche. This will prove tempting and enticing to those wishing to make a difference.


  • Sense of satisfaction – knowing that they are helping to reduce pollution and the use of plastics will give customers a greater sense of gratification, as they’ll know that their shopping trips are making a difference.


  • The new old – like we mentioned earlier, zero waste stores are not that different from the neighbourhood shops of old. At the heart of them they strove to form close customer interactions and relations. This same experience is possible with zero waste stores. They are a chance for businesses to strengthen customer relations and offer them a better experience – one that is educational and enlightening, while fulfilling their shopping needs.

There is also the nostalgia they will inspire. By going ‘retro’ and mimicking shopping experiences of times gone by – pre-supermarket – you will reach a new audience base.


  • Price competitive – zero waste stores are quite price competitive and are even cheaper – on occasion – than products of the same category.


  • Interactive experience – visiting the store itself can be turned into an experience as customers can enjoy the action of pouring and measuring their own groceries. It can even be turned into an outing where they can make a day of it or travel specifically to visit them.


  • Naturalistic surroundings – zero waste stores are a lot less artificial than conventional stores making them more appealing to browse around. This can be used to your advantage as customers may stay longer in your store as they’ll be absorbed in your use of natural features.


  • Zero waste initiatives – large stores are not blind to this growing demand. Many are launching their own zero waste initiatives which has helped to build awareness on the subject. By scrapping plastic wrapping for their organic produce; not selling straws and plastic cutlery, and offering package-free products such as pasta and nuts; they are proving how easy it is to go plastic free.

In fact, alongside experimenting with reusable packaging formats, some top supermarkets are aiming to become zero waste businesses by 2023 (Iceland) and 2025 (Marks and Spencer); while others are already encouraging customers to bring in their own containers in exchange for loyalty points.

And this is great for the development of zero waste stores, as by broadening consumer knowledge of the issue; their natural interest may entice them into visiting dedicated zero waste stores more often.

More interestingly, customers are usually willing to pay more for brands that demonstrate a commitment to sustainability. Already, supermarkets have witnessed a 300% increase in vegetable sales since they ditched single-use plastic wrapping. This suggests with the right strategy, zero waste stores can make more money – especially as most products are cheaper than traditional brands.

  • Saves you money – by saving your business money on disposal, labour and energy; this spare cash can be fed back into your business and be used to maximise customer satisfaction.


  • Customer convenience – using the right store design and layout is only one element you can use to strengthen brand recognition, reputation and sales. Adopting an online delivery service will also boost consumer convenience and make plastic free products more accessible.

If you are to take anything from the points above, it is that – zero waste shopping can make a massive difference to consumer experiences. Not only does it enable shoppers to eat healthier, buy ethically and support their local community; it is also a very immersive experience.

From enlisting the help of your community to help buy and launch the shop, to allowing customers to pick and weigh their own products; this level of interaction will stimulate both pride and passion in your shoppers as their investment in your store will be nearly as strong as your own. As such, they will be more committed to its success and will be more inclined to choose you over a supermarket – especially once they see your prices.

If you’re interested in transforming your store into a zero waste haven, at Resolution Interiors we can help you to create a store concept that not only fully embodies this plastic free philosophy; it will ensure that your customers enjoy a stress free, efficient shopping experience. To learn more about our fit out designs, speak to a member of our team today…