Business development · 20 October 2017

Why branded litter on the high street is leaving a bad taste for consumers

Research has found that seeing an item as litter can reduce a consumers willingness to buy that brand
Research has found that seeing an item as litter can reduce a consumer’s willingness to buy that brand

The vast majority of UK consumers look upon a business negatively if they have witnessed its products discarded onto public streets, according to new findings uncovering the worrying reputational impact of branded litter.

E-cigarette retailer polled over 1,200 British shoppers to find out what kind of effect seeing branded products littered had on a brand’s reputation, and to what extent brands and retailers could be suffering from negative connotations of littering.

After seeing a product littered, some 76 per cent of respondents admitted a negative perception was passed down directly onto the brand, regardless of where it was seen.

Meanwhile, over a third claimed they would be deterred from buying a brand altogether if they had seen it littered on the street.

After calculating the overall sales hit, the study claimed branded litter could even represent a two per cent drop in a company’s turnover.

The findings also uncovered the subconscious effect of litter visible outside high street businesses, putting retailers at risk. Over half of respondents believed that items sold from a shop with litter outside would be “of a poorer quality” than a litter-free equivalent.

Michelle Gardener, founder of Faraway Furniture, articulated the impact of litter on her high street business.

“Littering was a big problem when we were selling furniture on a high street,” she said. “Our goods often carry a high price tag, but when the pavement outside is littered with cigarette butts and discarded rubbish, consumers will have a bad impression of your brand and assume it is of low quality.”

Convenience store owner Kamal Shah also experienced a negative response from high street littering.

“We saw littering outside our shop all the time,” he admitted. “Younger shoppers were most often to blame as they would throw chocolate wrappers on the floor instead of in the bin. This would put us in an awkward position with residents in the area who felt we were to blame for the litter, and it even stopped some from shopping with us which negatively impacted our business.”

Around two-thirds of Brits admit to dropping litter on the streets, according to environmental organisation Keep Britain Tidy, costing taxpayers some £1bn each year in clean-up operations.

However, the study suggested that consumers placed responsibility on business owners – not local authorities – to do more to tackle visible high street litter. Some 82 per cent of respondents believed companies should go further in ensuring goods are disposed of properly

Researchers asked consumers which brands they most associated with on-street litter.

Brand  Percentage of respondents who often see this as branded litter 
McDonalds 89 per cent
Coca Cola 87 per cent
Walkers 72 per cent
Cadbury 65 per cent
KFC 64 per cent
Other 53 per cent
Costa 43 per cent
Starbucks 40 per cent
Stella Artois 36 per cent
Subway 25 per cent
Extra (chewing gum) 11 per cent
Monster Seven per cent
Evian Four per cent

Are you in the 80 per cent of founders using Google to manage your company’s online reputation?

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Praseeda Nair is the editorial director of Business Advice, and its sister publication for growing businesses, Real Business. She's an impassioned advocate for women in leadership, and likes to profile business owners, advisors and experts in the field of entrepreneurship and management.

Business development