Being a busy empty-nest couple, my wife and I often grab dinner late and on the run. That's especially likely to be the case on those days when she stays late at the elementary school where she teaches. On one such night recently, she stopped at the grocery store and picked up a frozen cheese pizza.
The pizza had a smiling World War I ace on the box, so you know it had to be good. I often wondered how the Red Baron would feel if he knew his reputation had earned him a spot as a pizza pitchman. Regardless, she opened the box to find a pizza that was somewhat smaller than the carton size would suggest. She told me she picked that pizza over another because she thought it was larger.
Most consumer packages are designed for their eye appeal. Over the years, market research has shown that we're drawn to bright attractive graphics and we will buy the bigger package if we have a choice, thinking we're getting better value. Would anyone buy a thumb drive if the package were only as big as the thumb drive itself? How often have you bought a bag of potato chips to find it half filled with air? (I know manufacturers claim that's simply from the chips settling during shipment, but we know better.) Consumers have been taught to go for the eye candy rather than the simple, efficient packaging.
While that approach does work well for attracting attention on a store shelf, it's less than ideal from a supply chain perspective. The bigger-than-needed package consumes valuable storage space within the distribution facility as well as on store shelves. It also inflates shipping costs.
Size does matter, and that differential is especially important when it comes to e-commerce. When we buy an item online, we don't even see the package—just the product's image on our computer or smartphone screen. Putting products in oversized packages only adds to supply chain expense and creates supply chain waste. It's time to reconsider how we package.
This problem was not as critical just a few short months ago. But as of January, both FedEx and UPS have shifted to dimensional weight pricing for nearly all parcel packages, including the vast majority of e-commerce orders. Shipping oversized packages is now quite costly and consumes valuable parcel capacity needed for meeting increasing demand.
While I am not advocating separate packaging for items displayed in stores and those sold online (that just adds complexity and inflates the stock-keeping-unit count), it is time to consider scaling down the packaging. Maybe what should sell the product is the quality of the product itself—and not the stuff that gets thrown away.