When Packaging Fights Back: It’s Not Just ‘Wrap Rage,’ It’s Also Not Eco-Friendly

Not exactly frustration-free packaging

By Jonathan Spira on 26 September 2020
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Several years ago, Amazon began telling its suppliers that it wants them to use consumer-friendly packaging for their products that is also more earth friendly.

Not all of them are apparently listening.

As Amazon continues to expand its footprint across the globe, it ships many products with wasteful packaging and plastic that won’t decompose in a landfill.  It’s not only the products: Amazon ships numerous half empty boxes that end up in people’s recycling bins.

The issue is that most consumer packaging was designed to attract buyer attention on store shelves, not to fit neatly with other products in a cardboard Amazon box.   Hence it extolls the products’ virtues with expensive and oversized packaging rather than a plain brown box that gets the product from Point A to Point B. Companies tend to call the latter “frustration free” packaging and I now know why.

This point was driven home to me rather forcefully with the purchase, from Amazon, of a Norelco OneBlade hybrid electric shaver.  As is usually the case with items shipped to Amazon Prime members, the item arrived quickly – within a day – and was undamaged.  It was, however, packaged in a most remarkable customer-proof clamshell that seemed impenetrable except with a knife. Clamshell might not be the best descriptor: perhaps it was a highly classified plastic enclosure for which I did not have the password.

As a result, I was soon to experience what experts call “wrap rage,” a term first used in 2003 in an article in the Telegraph.

Wrap rage is the name for a heightened level of anger and frustration at blister pack or clamshell packaging, but I’m not certain if there’s a name for the injuries consumers regularly get both from the packaging as well as the use of improper implements such as razor blades, box cutters, and ice picks to do combat with the packaging.

But I digress.

To avoid a trip to the emergency room or trauma center, I called Amazon customer support. Upon looking at a photo of the packaging on the Amazon web site, the rep I spoke to transferred me to a supervisor, with whom I figured out a relatively safe way to open it, albeit in about 20 minutes’ time.

This experience led me to do some research about Amazon and packaging.  It turns out that Amazon – just a little over a year ago – promoted how it was moving products such as mine to more customer-friendly packaging with the cooperation of the manufacturers and, lo and behold, the lede photo in a Wall Street Journal article trumpeting this effort was my Norelco OneBlade or at the very least an extremely similar Norelco OneBlade model. There it was, in a consumer-friendly cardboard box that appeared to be easy to open and had no sharp edges.

Given the concerns that many consumers – especially younger ones – have about the environmental impact of each order as well as the ones we all have about the loss of a finger, one would think that the right type of packaging, i.e. frustration free and earth-friendly, would win customer loyalty.

As consumers stayed home during the first six months of the coronavirus pandemic, Amazon’s sales increased as much as 60%, according to some estimates. As a result, there’s a lot more wasteful packaging floating around, in some cases literally.

“Prime members … were shopping more often and with larger baskets,” said Amazon’s chief financial officer, Brian Olsavsky, on a call with reporters after announcing record quarterly profit and sales in the second quarter of 2020 at the height of the pandemic.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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