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One step closer to 'frustration-free' packaging

Consumer Reports News: November 12, 2008 11:02 AM

Like many of you, I hate the frustration of struggling with packages that are hard to open -- particularly those impenetrable clear plastic "clamshells" fitted around everything from inkjet cartridges to cordless telephones.

Consumer Reports got so steamed at the problem that we recently created the aptly-named Oyster Awards to bash products that force you to fight tooth and nail to get at what's inside.

(Note added couple of weeks later: Our friends at the New York Times have also discovered the problem, as their story on impenetrable packaging from Nov. 15 shows ...)

Now, may have joined the movement. In an open letter to customers the other day, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos announced a multiyear initiative designed to alleviate "wrap rage." He says the company will work with leading manufacturers to deliver products in "smaller, easy-to-open recyclable cardboard boxes with less packaging material -- and no frustrating plastic clamshells or wire ties."

As an example, Amazon points to the new packaging for the Fisher-Price Imaginext Pirate Ship, which is shown here Amazon says the new packaging eliminates 36 inches of steel-wire ties; 36 inches of folding carton materials; and 3 1/2 inches of molded styrene. They've also cut out plastic fasteners and blister material, leaving little more than a toy ship stuffed into a plain brown cardboard box.

But bad packaging is more than an inconvenience; it can be dangerous too ...

When we asked readers about their experiences with particularly troublesome designs like clamshells, many told us how's they'd cut themselves while doing battle with knives, shears, box cutters, and screwdrivers - anything they could get their hands on to crack open the container.

Other readers, meanwhile, lamented how their children were brought to tears while futilely working to free their toys from a combination of wires, bands, tape, glue, tabs, and stitches. Christmas morning can get really ugly.

Amazon spokeswoman Patty Smith says the company's ultimate goal is to offer just about every product it sells in user-friendly packaging, a lofty target that the company admits will take years to achieve. For starters, however, Amazon is repackaging 19 best-selling toys and small electronics products from Fisher-Price, Mattel, Microsoft, and electronics manufacturer Transcend.

In fairness, Amazon has it easier than conventional retailers. It doesn't have to cater to shoppers who want to touch and even play with the toy, something that requires more imaginative packaging that let's you try before buying without destroying the package or the toy.

Still, we applaud Amazon's symbolic effort -- it's a move in the right direction. Now other retailers need to step up, particularly the warehouse clubs, which tend to have very difficult-to-open packages.

By the way, if you've seen examples of packaging that's particularly good, bad or wasteful, let us know -- either through posting a comment here or writing to me at tightwad at cro dot consumer dot org. We'll either run another blog entry or pass them along to my colleague Leslie Ware as candidates for our next Oyster Award roundup!

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