I just cut my finger. I was trying to extricate a tool I got for Christmas from its clear clamshell packaging—you know, the kind of heavy-duty sealed plastic that requires sturdy scissors, Herculean strength, and a small nuclear device to remove.
The finger cut resulted from a sharp edge created when I sliced open the plastic and tried to pry it apart to get at the tool inside. It's not the first time I have put my blood on the line for the sake of product packaging. I realize that there are advantages for manufacturers and sellers to package products in polyvinyl chloride, polyethylene, or polystyrene plastic shells. Such packaging is designed primarily for point-of-sale retailing. It is see-through, so it makes it easy for consumers to evaluate the contents inside. It also eliminates the need for a photo or drawing of the product on the outside of the package. And it's tamperproof and deters theft. No one can easily break open the packaging in the store to remove the contents. Heck, I have trouble enough opening it when I get home.
While this type of packaging is an advantage for merchandise sold at retail stores, it can be something of a detriment when it comes to e-commerce. I have written before in this column that manufacturers need to rethink packaging for products sold online. Clear packaging holds no advantages for e-consumers. They can't hold it, turn it over, and look at it when making a Web purchase. The only packaging these customers care about is the packaging that protects their goods during shipping.
Point-of-sale plastic packaging also tends to be much larger than its contents. The extra material surrounding the item is designed to catch the eye in a retail store. But the larger size makes it costlier to ship, especially under dim weight pricing. The extra packaging could be removed at the distribution center, but that may not be cost effective when you factor in the additional labor.
Online retailers can require manufacturers to deliver their products in different packaging. Such vendor compliance mandates are handed down all the time, and we hope to see more of this in the future. Of course, this may mean that manufacturers have to invest in additional packaging lines and separate processes for items sold through e-commerce and items sold in stores.
One other interesting point to note: Knowing that I have a love-hate relationship with plastic clamshell packaging, my wife bought me a special pair of cutters designed specifically to open it. The ironic thing is that the cutters themselves arrived encased in the same kind of plastic clamshell that required such a tool to free them. I think I bled that time too.