Consumers Use Shopping Spree To Get Store To Make Energy Efficient Choices

Carrotmob leveraged the power of several hundred San Francisco consumers to get a local liquor store to make environmentally friendly choices. How did they do it? Organizer Brent Schulkin went to all the liquor stores and asked if he got a ton of people down there to buy on one day, how great of a percentage of their spending would the store be willing to dedicate to making environmentally friendly improvments? The store with the greatest percentage won and the Carrotmob got several hundred people to show up on one day. The line stretched around the block and bouncers had to be used to regulate the inflow. The consumers spent about five times what the store pulls in on a normal day, generating enough money for the store to redo its lighting system and its refrigeration gaskets. “We can harness the buying power of the casual consumer, get businesses to make environmental choices, and we can do it with the carrot,” says Brent in the event video after the jump. Pretty freakin’ awesome, a total win-win, imagine what could this look like if it were scaled out on a national level…

(Photo: Mary Catherine O’Connor)


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  1. stephenjames716 says:

    great stuff…congrats brent.

  2. phoenixsflame says:

    This should be adopted by all Local Harvesters, or Freecyclers across the country. Gather en masse, approach the stores and barter with them. “If we come in and purchase for a one day shopping spree, will you sign this contract to devote a percentage to making your store more efficient?”

    I’m not surprised this was on the West Coast, but I think it could work in Chicago as well… (West side/North side… Southside isn’t the kind of place you want to be gathering en masse unless you want riot police and intervention on a violent level.)

  3. TadPrime says:

    That is a great idea. Good job Carrotmob!

  4. snazz says:

    what a great idea!

  5. shan6 says:

    Ahh the power of money. What a great idea.

  6. t-r0y says:

    Hmmm, so one liquor store in San Francisco is ‘greener’. But there are hundreds of liquor stores in SF, and millions in the US. Are there enough drinkers to get them to change too?

    I’m all for being ‘greener’, but I don’t think this plan is scalable.

  7. Hoss says:

    Once with store owner realizes he lost money on his 22% guarantee he’ll surely scale back on the spending (assuming he spends anything at all). Great concept though

  8. Gokuhouse says:

    That’s a great idea! Now we just need to do the same thing to Wal-Mart…You know, have a ton of customers shopping there all at once….Oh, wait….That’s how Wal-Mart is all the time. How do we appeal to Wal-Mart or other LARGE retailers?

  9. Christovir says:

    @Hossofcourse: Many environmentally friendly upgrades have a higher initial cost, and then save money in the long run. This is definitely the case with better lighting and insulation. Assuming the carrotmob paid for the initial investment cost, this could save the owner a fair chunk of change, rather than costing them money. Eco-friendly = cheaper more often than not.

  10. friendlynerd says:

    Maybe not, but if it’s fun, do-able on a small scale, and beneficial for all involved then I’d say it was a success.

  11. Mayor McRib says:

    I really thought this was going to be another stupid “mob” story, but I am glad I read it anyway. This is a perfect example of the power of consumerism. It’s nice to see people who are inventive and intelligent enough to realize what money talks. Kudos to the group in actually finding a way to make a change.

  12. warf0x0r says:

    Not a bad idea at all.

  13. @phoenixsflame: go to Hyde Park much?

  14. huadpe says:

    @Hossofcourse: He wasn’t asked to give the 22 % away, he was asked to re-invest it in the store in a specific way. That $2000 investment in his store will save him some amount of money in the future, so he isn’t really losing much. Even assuming the investment could have been slightly better spent elsewhere, his baseline profit margin would cover the difference at that kind of volume.

  15. t-r0y says:

    @friendlynerd: I never labeled this event a failure, I just questioned the overall impact on the environment and the idea that it could be “… scaled out on a national level”.

  16. What sorts of changes can a liquor store make to become more energy efficient?

  17. I really love that voting with your pocketbook is coming into vogue again.

  18. @Mayor McRib: It seems like this one was a “smart mob story” – and a really good one at that.

  19. puddleglum411 says:

    Only Californians are loopy enough to not to realize that consuming all that grain-based alcohol is causing more land to be deforested, and raising global food prices. Plus, they don’t need it. Do I have my memes mixed up?

  20. swimmey says:

    @The Count of Monte Fisto: All those beer coolers use a lot of electricity, and many of them use old hydrochlorofluorocarbon coolant systems which are not just inefficient but leak nasty Freon-like substances. Energy is the No. 2 expense line for grocery retailers (behind payroll) and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the case for liquor stores too.

  21. ecwis says:

    @puddleglum411: Ha yes. I don’t know if a liquor store would be their best example of stopping global warming or what have you. Just don’t buy any alcohol at all. Water is “greener,” eh?

    It is a good example of the power of your dollar though. Don’t blame the government for all the problems. Businesses will do anything for your money. The consumer has an awful lot of power.

  22. ian937262 says:

    That’s the coolest fucking thing I’ve ever heard! I don’t think it’d ever work but it’s thinking outside the box and creative. Allows the small consumer to play a role.

  23. guroth says:

    How many of those people were planning on purchasing from that liquor store over the next few days and did it on that one day instead?
    5x the sales one day, 1/5 the sales the next day?

    A good trick to get the business to upgrade their lightning but this idea is not scalable.

    The people chose that one store instead of the others because of a mob mentality, but what about the other stores? They surely did less business that day if any of the patrons were normally going to go to another store.

    How is this any different than saying “Buy here because every day we donate some of our profits to the earth and doing hippie things”
    The answer: it’s not, other than concentrating it into one day.

    Everyone knows America is about instant gratification and the only reason this story gets any coverage is because it was accomplished in one business one day instead of a ton of businesses over a year.

  24. wickedpixel says:

    Yeah for Brent :) I used to work with him – cool guy.

  25. BlazerUnit says:

    @t-r0y: The event itself doesn’t have to be repeated. I’d bet these improvements would likely include a measure of energy savings, which would lower that bar’s overall operating costs, meaning more profit, which could then in turn be used to make other improvements.

  26. overbysara says:

    I love this!

  27. Jon47 says:

    Most of the comments that are against the idea haven’t fully considered the issue. To the person who said that consuming/purchasing alcohol is bad for you/the environment: it’s not a bar or a liquor store, it was a grocery store, so you don’t need to buy beer or wine there, you could buy a box of sugar or some light bulbs too. To the person who said that these customers all just combined their visit to this store on one day rather than staggering their vists: I’d love to see some statistics to back up your argument. I personally know people who went far out of their way to visit this store, which is nowhere near their home and they would never have visited otherwise. To the person who said this could not be scaled to a national level: with your attitude of course not. Carrotmob has successfully pulled this stunt a few times. Maybe if you got involved in your local area you could make a little difference too and a bunch of little differences add up to a lot.

  28. mike says:

    This has a huge flaw…

    The mob only came for one day. Yes, the store made a great deal of money. But without continual traffic, they will end up losing money.

  29. greendream says:

    This is a great idea! If you watch the full video on the carrotmob website, Brent talks about how this idea CAN be scaled up to larger companies. I love that it’s a “win, win” all around — like others have pointed out, the store isn’t giving the 22% of their sales away, but instead INVESTING in technology that will lower their energy costs over the long-term. The biggest reason more small scale companies/stores can’t/don’t do this, is costs – they usually don’t have the excess capital to invest, but boosting their sales by SO much, even for one day, can provide them with the cash they need for these improvements.

    My one critique is to try to make the overall campaign a bit more eco-friendly. In the video, they showed a whole lot of people walking out with their purchases – most in Plastic bags. Encouraging participants to bring their own bags and maybe working with the store to get a cheap (i.e. $1 each) reusable bag that they can sell to customers would be good. And of course, encouraging people to by more eco-friendly, less packaged, etc. products, is always a good thing. The products sold in stores like that small liquor store, are not always the best in this area — and one great way for consumers to “vote” with their dollar, is to buy products that are produced in the most responsible ways.

    BUT with all that said, this was a great first try! Hopefully as they try to scale this concept up, they’ll try to incorporate some of these other issues, to make these campaigns as effective as possible.

  30. Charles Duffy says:

    @guroth: Given that the crowd was collected before the participating store was selected, I think it’s quite safe to presume that there was relatively little overlap with their regular customer base.

    Given that, it’s more likely that this would have helped them by increasing customer awareness.

  31. Charles Duffy says:

    @sohmc: Only that one day’s profits were directed on the basis of the agreement. How’s there money being lost?