Amazon One-Ups Santa Claus With Frustration-Free Packaging

Marketers Team With Online Retailer to Do Away With Holiday Futility

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It's a question Andy Rooneyesque in its banality and in the seeming futility of raising it -- how can most packaging, especially electronics packaging, be so terrible? Hard, sealed plastic packaging is a hassle at best. At worst, it's downright dangerous. Never mind the mental anguish, clamshell attacks actually do result in injury. As Wired noted in its "Why Things Suck" issue, 6,500 Americans were admitted to hospitals in 2004 after losing a fight with a blister pack.

And then there's the environmental horror. It's bad enough that you're, you know, consuming stuff made of eternally intact materials in the first place. That that product typically comes cloaked in a large, thick shield of plastic is just everlasting icing on the landfill.

As noted on Adages several days back, Amazon has waded into the packaging morass and come out with an excellent initiative that will offer consumers an alternative to evil plastic enclosures and tiny wires. As of early November, Amazon shoppers were able to purchase a selection of toys and electronics packaged in plain, easy-to-open, recyclable boxes. The company cleverly dubbed the program "Frustration-Free Packaging," so even those who don't particularly care about the environment can absorb a major benefit of the program.

Amazon launched the initiative with 19 products from Mattel, Fisher-Price, Microsoft and memory-card maker Transcend. The program starts at the manufacturing level. "We receive the product in the new Frustration Free packages, we put a shipping label on it and out it goes," says Amazon spokeswoman Patty Smith. "There's no need to put it in another box for shipping, there's no air pillow or peanuts or anything else."

The new packaging scheme for the Fisher-Price Imaginex Adventures Pirate Ship, for example eliminates, according to Amazon, "36 inches of plastic-coated wire ties, 1,576.5 square inches of printed corrugated package inserts and 36.1 square inches of printed folding carton materials ... 175.25 square inches of PVC blisters, 3.5 square inches of ABS-molded styrene and two molded-plastic fasteners."

Founder Jeff Bezos has said the company's multiyear goal is to offer all of its products in Frustration-Free Packaging. Which seems reasonable, as giant plastic clamshells are a meat-space phenomenon anyway -- they are used in stores to deter thieves. Smith says while manufacturers are still producing standard and FF packages, over time the move to simplified packaging should result in cost savings on products that can be passed on to consumers.

So what about the value of branded packaging? A few online commentators raised the issue that in the toy category, a plain box at Christmas might disappoint kids. Maybe. But overall, a brand gains more value in goodwill by making this kind of statement about ease of use and sustainability than with a colorful photo on a box. And for any company, whether they go frustration-free or not, this kind of program provides impetus to make sensible packaging part of the brand in the first place.

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Teressa Iezzi is the editor of Creativity magazine and Creativity-Online.com.
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