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issue: October 2009 APPLIANCE Magazine

Appliance Line
Improving the Package

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Tim Somheil, editor

An unsatisfactory product is worse than an annoying package.

Many of us have been driven to use profanity while trying to open toys or small electronics in hard plastic clamshell packages. Sawing at the shell with a razor knife. Tearing off plastic shards with pliers, one infuriating strip at a time.

Even if your company makes small appliances that are sold in those packages, you have to admit they’re an annoyance. But toys are the worst. Toys can get marred by whatever blade is used to get inside the plastic shell or the parts break when you try to disentangle the product from the countless adhesive-taped twist-ties that lash the toy to the cardboard backing.

Amazon.com tried to do something about it last year when it launched its Frustration-Free Packaging program for toys and small electronics. This year, Fisher-Price and Mattel, who were among the first to join the program, are expanding their product offerings in time for the winter holidays.

The program can benefit the OEM as well as the consumer. The producer can legitimately claim that a package of mostly cardboard is more recyclable and thus more environmentally friendly than a hard plastic shell package, in which the plastic is rarely recyclable. There’s also, potentially, a higher level of customer satisfaction. No manufacturer wants their customer’s product experience to start with frustration over the unwrapping process.

Of course, there are good reasons that consumer products come packaged in hard plastic and twist-ties. It’s extremely effective at protecting the product from breakage on its journey from factory to consumer. Because the contents can’t be easily accessed without destroying the packaging, losses are kept to a minimum and the chances of the customer getting an incomplete product are very small.

Still Frustrated

Some Amazon customers are less than thrilled about the products they’re receiving in Frustration-Free Packaging—and they’re posting their comments to the Amazon product pages. Several reviews on the page for the Frustration-Free Packaging version of the Motorola T305 Bluetooth Portable Hands-Free Speakerphone accuse Amazon of sending consumers second-hand products. Worn parts and missing pieces, the reviews say, show that the product was used and returned, then sold again as new.

Amazon ratings on these specific products seem to sum up the user experience. The Frustration-Free Packaging version received an overall 1.5-star rating. The same product in traditional packaging was rated three stars. While most FFP Electronics received good reviews, about one per page on my Amazon visit received a negative review along the same lines as the T305.

But would I still consider ordering an FFP electronics product? Maybe. Toys? Absolutely.

Promoting the Package

Amazon’s unique retail business model makes it possible for it to sell its products in this way, but it seems likely that other retailers or small appliance/small electronics OEMs will attempt to differentiate themselves through alternative packaging approaches. The promotional message seems like a no-brainer—consumers know and despise the clamshell packages.

But the end result must still be to deliver a complete and perfect product into the hands of the consumer. Anything less is a step backwards.

Tim Somheil, tim.somheil@cancom.com

APPLIANCE Magazine had an important role in the founding of today’s International Safe Transit Association. Read more:




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