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Packaging frustration

July 13, 2009

by Ivan Raconteur

I began the day by having a battle with my new shoes.

The problem was not with the shoes themselves, but with the obnoxious labels that were stuck to the bottom of each one of them.

I don’t object to manufacturers putting labels on their products, but it seems to me they could have found a better way to go about it.

The labels were about four inches square and made of white paper.

They were apparently designed to self-destruct on contact, making it necessary to scrape them off in tiny bits, rather than peeling off the entire label in one piece.

It was an excruciatingly slow and frustrating process.

The adhesive used must have been developed for the space program or the construction industry. It was much stronger and more durable than the paper on which it was used.

After spending about a week scraping off as much of the labels as I could with my thumbnail, I got a wet rag and tried to scrub off the remaining sticky mess of glue and paper.

I met with only limited success.

I concluded that the only way to get the residue off of the shoes would be to do a lot of walking on abrasive surfaces.

A belt sander would have worked, but I didn’t have one handy.

The whole affair was an exercise in frustration, and I have a sneaking suspicion that this is the motivation behind a lot of the packaging and labeling we see today.

I haven’t figured out what manufacturers have against consumers, but the way they present their products suggests that they are harboring some sort of grudge.

I ordered some shirts recently, and I think there were about 13 different labels and packaging elements of different types on each one.

Although time consuming, de-labeling the shirts was nothing compared to trying to liberate some of the other products on the market today.

It seems that the smaller an item is, the more difficult the sellers try to make it for us to get at it.

Obviously, part of the reason is that they are trying to prevent thieves from removing the items from the store without paying for them.

This is understandable, but once one gets the things home, one should be able to get at the products without employing a blowtorch or a hatchet to break into the package.

I suspect that there are teams of diabolical packaging engineers who do nothing all day except sit around in their laboratories thinking up new ways to foil consumers.

One can usually find some tool to defeat the packaging in the end, but it seems both unnecessary and inconvenient.

Unless one looks at it as a sort of game, or a battle of wits between you and the engineer, opening some types of packaging can be just plain annoying.

Then, there is the cost.

One can’t help wondering how much of the cost of each item we buy goes into the packaging.

If the packaging were simpler and more efficient, the products would be less expensive for us to buy.

There would also be a lot less trash piling up in landfills every year.

Sometimes, the packaging is several times larger than the product it contains.

There might be an argument in favor of this if we were talking about shipping some piece of highly-sensitive equipment, but what about other products?

Anyone who has purchased razor blades recently will understand what I mean.

The packaging is extremely wasteful, and once one hacks it open using a utility knife or heavy duty shears, it will land in a dump for the next several thousand years.

This is not so good for the planet or the consumer.

There are many examples of bad packaging.

The sad thing is that it doesn’t have to be this way.

There is good engineering out there, and some companies are designing extremely thoughtful packaging.

For example, the last television I purchased was made by RCA. All I had to do was cut two straps and lift the top off the box, and I was in business.

The packaging was efficient, and yet, the product was completely protected.

There is hope on the horizon.

Some companies, such as Amazon, are getting the message, and have implemented initiatives in recent years to use “frustration-free packaging.”

If this trend continues, there may come a time when we will be able to bring our treasures home after a morning of retail therapy without having to assemble an arsenal of tools just to get at our purchases.