The refill-ution: The rise of the refillable in-store experience

We all know the plight that mass production of single-use plastic is on the environment and for most of us, it comes as no surprise that over 10 million tonnes of plastic enter our oceans each and every year. While many of us try to do the right thing by recycling our plastics, a huge 91% of plastic isn’t recycled and instead ends up in landfills or as litter in our natural environments.

The food manufacturing and beauty industries are considered the biggest offenders when it comes to single-use packaging. Food that we order comes in plastic containers, snacks we eat come in plastic packaging, and beauty products we use come with plastic wands and in plastic bottles and containers. We’ve all purchased a product and wondered if the three plastic sleeves, cellophane or gilded boxes were necessary.

Mass production of plastic is unsustainable and causes significant harm to our earth. Now is the time for companies, industries and brands to take a stand and evaluate their product packaging and adopt sustainable solutions. Refillable product solutions are not a new concept, but is one adoption continuing to gain traction in the retail market across the globe.

The Body Shop rolled out 400 refill stations across stores globally in 2021 with a goal of adding another 400 in 2022. The refill stations at selected stores allow customers to purchase a reusable aluminium bottle that employees can fill and refill (each refill contains an extra 50ml which customers get free!) with products such as hair care, shower gels and handwashes.

Reusable Bottles, The Body Shop

The biggest question is how these refillable stations, products and spaces can integrate seamlessly into the in-store shopping experience without adding time, inconvenience or friction for customers and employees in the process?

The rise of refillable stations & stores

Refillable products are nothing new, but the concept continues to rise in popularity. A number of brands such as L’Occitane and Kjaer Weis have been producing them for years. In more recent times we’ve seen the introduction of zero waste practices in stores and the rise of refill stations to cut out unnecessary or wasteful packaging. Lush, The Body Shop, L’Occitane, Aesop and Coles are some of the big names in the process of trialling and rolling out refill stations and other zero waste practices across stores around Australia and the world.

In 2022 Aesop launched its first refill store in South Yarra, Melbourne. If successful the brand will roll out stations across Australia and ultimately make all of its packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025. Refills are only available for three of their glass-bottle products to begin with. Customers bring their empty glass bottles to the store and exchange them for a full one at a slightly discounted price.

Aesop South Yarra Store, Broadsheet

Imagine purchasing detergent, pet food, deodorant, olive oil, shampoo, instant coffee, body lotion, pasta and other essential household products and groceries in reusable containers. After cleaning and sterilising, you then reuse the plastic bottles and containers at your next shop by refilling them at specialised stations or dropping off the ones you no longer need as part of an in-store recycling program.

The refill process can be specially designed to suit the product, store and desired customer experience. It can be customised to allow customers to rinse and disinfect containers in-store for safety and convenience or allow customers to choose and pay for the amount they need. Employees can perform the refill process or customers can do it themselves.

Pushing the refill concept a step further, there’s an opportunity for brands and retailers to create a unique, memorable and sensory-driven in-store experience. There’s a growing appreciation for the experiential nature of refilling your own products among consumers. TikTokers are going viral showcasing the aesthetically pleasing and satisfying nature of refilling containers with food, drink and beauty products.

How are consumers responding to the refillable revolution?

The way we consume products and use single-use plastic is changing rapidly and for good reason. A 2020 survey found 45% of consumers avoid the use of plastic wherever possible and 41% want retailers to eliminate plastic bags and packaging for perishable items. Growing up at a time when our impact on the planet is increasingly visible, Gen Z holds the key to shifting consumer behaviours and is clearly concerned with seeking out more sustainable options.

The challenge for brands and retailers is balancing sustainability practices with positive customer experiences. For refill stores and stations to be accepted and favoured by consumers, they must meet (and exceed!) the flawless, quick, easy, convenient and pleasurable experience they expect. The environmental benefits and a price incentive are the biggest drivers for adopting the system.

The most common pain points for customers are that the process takes too much time, the inconvenience of having to finish and clean the container before buying a new product and remembering to bring the container when they next go shopping. However, a price incentive where the refill is cheaper than the original product often overrides many of the negative aspects.

When designing refillable products, stores and stations, brands and retailers need to consider the customer needs at each touchpoint and throughout the entire experience and learn from brands who are already trialling a refillable concept.

Opening its first Green Store concept in Sydney featuring a refill fountain, L’Occitane customers purchase or reuse their Forever Bottle made of recycled aluminium. Unlike The Body Shop and Aesop, customers manually refill place it under the fountain tap of the product of their choice and pour. The machine is calibrated to pour the exact amount of product depending on the size selected.

L’Occitane Green Store Westfield Bondi Junction, L’Occitane Australia

When it comes to supermarkets, Coles is setting a new standard in Australia with their sustainable concept store in Moonee Ponds, Victoria. The supermarket features ‘packageless’ refill stations for laundry soaps, household detergents and shampoo and conditioner from major Australian brands. Customers will also find less packaging on prepacked fresh produce.

For too long we have turned a blind eye to the harms of single-use plastic. The way we consume products and use single-use plastic is changing rapidly as we look for ways as a collective to cut down on single-use packaging, encourage reuse where possible and reduce the amount of waste by only purchasing the amount we need. It’s time for companies and brands to lead the sustainability movement.

If you’d like to know more about how you can incorporate refill stores and stations into your retail strategy, get in touch with Storepro.

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