Amazon begins initiative to reduce packaging

Great packaging can be the difference between success and failure for some products. As marketers, it’s our responsibility to make sure the products we are marketing are packaged in a way that merchandises well, is easy to display, and showcases its best features on the shelf—especially when stacked up against the competition.

Creative packaging reinforces and in some cases is the primary contact point for a brand. Unique shapes, sizes, formats, structures and materials are all in the mix when you want your product to stand out in the crowd and get people talking.

But as marketers, we’re also responsible for the perception of our brand—and most consumers hate excessive packaging. The fact is, excessive and frustrating packaging gets people talking too.

Here’s a product we received from Amazon.com today. What do you think when you see this?

Amazon packaging used for a wireless mini USB adapter

The world’s smallest wireless mini USB adapter came in a box 25 times larger than necessary, and the Amazon box the product package came in was at least three times larger than it needed to be.

While I’m picking on Amazon, they are actually working to address the problem with Frustration-Free Packaging:

Amazon Frustration-Free Packaging, a multi-year initiative designed to alleviate “wrap rage,” features recyclable boxes that are easy to open and free of excess materials such as hard plastic clamshell cases, plastic bindings, and wire ties. The product itself is exactly the same—we’ve just streamlined the packaging.

Sure, the list of Frustration-Free products is small, but at least Amazon is engaging customers in the conversation by giving them the opportunity to share their images and videos of frustrating packaging experiences in their Gallery of Wrap Rage while clearly stating their environmental commitment.

I hope packaging absurdities like the one we witnessed today will become a thing of the past, but kudos to Amazon for taking a step in the right direction. That said, I’ll reserve the right to “un-kudo” them in the future if they act too slowly.

Will reduced packaging hurt merchandising? Possibly, but not for online purchases.

Should marketers be responsible for the amount of packaging used on a product? If we care about your brand perception and the environment, I say yes.

Enough of what I think.

What do you think of the reduced packaging versus merchandising dilemma?

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Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • And don’t you love packing with multiple materials that can’t be separated and recycled, or blister packs that simply can’t be opened without ruining the packaging? Seems to me that if we’re going to use blister packs to educe packaging (their only advantage), there should be a standardized way to snap them open and closed, and make them reusable (not to mention less frustrating).

  • Chris Wilson says:

    We had a similar discussion yesterday when a small order of business cards were delivered to us packaged in small boxes together and then shipped in a disproportionately larger box for shipping. I imagine that this happens because it costs less to have 3 standard shipping sizes instead of 20, but this obviously doesn’t mean that it is the responsible way to do business. (Is this why they only ship in a small assortment of box sizes? I don’t know.)

    As for your question about reduced packaging hurting merchandising…. I think the smartest brands will benefit all around from reduced packaging. There is no reason that reduced packaging can not be designed to be just as visually appealing and stimulating as previous packaging solutions. We just have to approach packaging design with responsible reduction in mind from the get go. It’s a fairly new concept, so that’s why we have seen few examples of responsible packaging that works the displays like old packaging.

  • Barry Goldfarb says:

    I ordered an Xbox Live subscription card (the size of a credit card) and they sent it in a box slightly smaller than a shoe box. Do you think a padded envelope would have sufficed?

  • moon says:

    Packaging has been a real sore point with me lately, and especially clamshell packaging. For one thing, I don’t like packages I have to use a pair of tin snips to open when it could just as easily have been packaged in a paper package. For another thing, many stores have been taking advantage of clamshell packaging, by making it their policy not to accept the return of a product outside of it’s original packaging. Clamshell packages make it impossible for you to return the product in it’s original packaging, it gets destroyed trying to open it, and if it should turn out that you mistakenly got the wrong product, or the right product but the wrong version or whatever, you are SOL with respect to returning it for an exchange, and have to buy another one. I realize there are certain advantages to clamshell packs with respect to hanging them on hooks, durability of the package, and having the merchandise visible, but really, I just hate that stuff, and they could just as easily develop a cardboard package with a see through window that can be hung on a rack just as well. If the package has been sitting around the store long enough to become shopworn in the first place, it’s time to have a sale on that product and get it out of there already. If I have a choice between the same product made by two different manufacturers, one in clamshell, the other in cardboard, and consider the products an equal value, I am going to choose the one in the cardboard package. Cardboard comes with it’s own set of challenges, I wrote a letter to Biore about one of their products, about the packaging. The gist of it was that their boxes were easily opened, and I would often get the product home only to find that a shoplifter had opened the box, taken the product out and put the empty box back on the shelf. (the product in question was too light to tell by the feel of the box) The solution was simple, they now glue the bottom of the box, and apply a piece of tape to the top of the box, so it is tamper evident, and I am happy to see that my feedback was listened to and has appeared on the store shelves.
    Two things that one must keep in mind when shipping out a product, is that the postal service has minimum size requirements for packages, and when shipping out fragile items, there has to be sufficient packing to make sure the item is protected and going to arrive safely at it’s destination. If the item is too big or too fragile to put in a padded envelope to arrive safely, then the box has to be big enough for the postal service to deliver as a package, and that may be part of the problem. I always use the smallest box and least amount of packaging possible when I send out something, but the postal service almost turned me away once for having the package too small to put all their priority mail stickers on in addition to the addresses.
    With respect to the size of a package in merchandising, there are some requirements that need to be addressed with respect to packaging small items in particular. If the package seems disproportionately large to the size of the product, well, there are some very valid reasons for that. The biggest reason is shoplifters. A larger package for a small product makes it harder for someone to palm it and put it in their pocket. Other needs that have to be addressed in deciding how to package a product is fitting the product on a store shelf, and making the product visible to the consumer, these are two other reasons why a small product needs disproportionately large packaging. While a mail order store may not need such packaging, the manufacturers would likely not find it cost effective to change their packaging for a mail order store that doesn’t need it, vs a box store that does. Should manufacturers offer mail order stores box free items? With more an more people shopping online, perhaps that is a need they should explore in the future, but even if they did, it wouldn’t matter if the USPS or UPS still require a minimum package size.

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