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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Don't get caught in South Park's Whole Foods checkout charity episode

Don't get caught in South Park's Whole Foods checkout charity episode

South Park in season 19, episode 5 plays up that moment when an overenthusiastic checkout clerk pushes for pennies. The setting: Whole Foods Market, naturally.

Whether customers in real lines like this across America think it’s for good or mumble “for goodness’ sake,” checkout charity adds up big time. The largest of such campaigns pulled in more than $390 million last year, according to Cause Marketing Forum.

It’s all good for the charity and good for the business—and customers. Small change from single donations add up to real dollars for the charity that does not need to employ a large promotional campaign and captures donors when their pocketbook is already open. A business bonus: Participating shows that the store cares about its community.

But the fact is, when customers face the same question over and over, and similar requests in checkout lanes all over town, frustration can grow. And then it becomes a South Park storyline.

Cause Marketing Forum did find this year in its Good Scout report that 55 percent of consumers say they like being asked to donate at checkout. The others, well they give out of guilt.

Here are three ways you might be able to satisfy both:

Turn to tokens. Natural retailers promote the environment and community with wooden nickel campaigns like the one Good Harvest Market runs at its store. To thank customers for bringing their own bags, the grocer offers to donate a 5- or 10-cent bag credit to a local charity. The customer receives a token and places it in a receptacle for the charity of his or her choice. See Good Harvest’s setup here.

Set aside a day (or two). Limit your giving to a day of the week or a specific campaign throughout the year. Good Harvest, for example, has its 5&5 Day events in which it donates 5 percent of sales to a nonprofit, which also sends in baggers to answer questions about the charity. Added bonus: Customers get 5 percent off. In Texas, Wheatsville Food Co-op promotes its Community Action Wednesday in which 1 percent of sales each Wednesday for a month go to chosen charity.

Take it out of checkout. Do good, but consider bagging checkout charity. When customers arrive in line, they are ready make their purchases and move on. Skip the ask at a time that could be stressful for customers (and clerks) and find other ways to contribute to your community.

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