Overclocked Packaging

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I’m on a plane and get the usual micro bag of peanuts. After trying for 2-3 minutes to open it, I give up – it’s sealed for life.

I get a fair amount of review material and have had my share of almost impenetrable plastic packaging. I remember one instance where I used a radial arm saw to cut open a particularly “secure” package. It turns out that attacks against my person by bullet proof plastic packaging are not uncommon:

Washington Post on “Wrap Rage”

“This year, Consumer Reports magazine gave an award for the worst plastic clamshell packaging to a warehouse-store version of a Uniden cordless phone set: It took 9 minutes 22 seconds to unwrap completely and nearly caused injury to the person opening it. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, injuries from plastic packaging resulted in 6,400 visits to emergency rooms in 2004.”

And this is not just an American problem:

“Cornhill Direct has identified “wrap rage” as the latest irritant in modern life to drive Britain’s more unstable citizens crazy.

Spokesman Allan Truman says every year more than 60,000 people need hospital treatment for injuries caused by grappling with food packaging. ‘About 2,000 accidents happen while people are trying to separate items of frozen food, usually with a knife.'”

—James Moore, “Slice of life in the kitchen,” The Daily Telegraph (London, England), November 7, 2003

Now there’s nothing wrong with manufacturers sealing their packages in such a way as to prevent theft – if you buy small high-price items such as flash memory cards or pen drives, it’s easy to see why the packaging has to be “secure”. But you would think that someone among the army of packaging engineers could design a secure package that does not wreak havoc on the person attempting to liberate its contents from its plastic security cacoon.

But I think there is something more devious going on here – in an attempt to limit warranty returns, manufacturers are using impenetrable packaging so that consumers never use what’s inside – brilliant! We consumers buy a lot of pretty useless stuff as it is, so why not buy stuff that we can’t open anyway – it’s a win-win all around! Consumers buy stuff and manufacturers are not bothered with warranty claims and customer service, increasing profitability.

Even better, since you can’t use what’s in the package, why bother with making a product actually functional? All manufacturers have to do is put just the product’s case inside the package, devoid of any innards which make it work. This way they avoid messy things like product development expenses, further increasing profits.

I have to hand it to these packaging engineers – what a brilliant strategy!

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