The lesson of clamshell packaging and real company values

Tara Hunt at BarCampBlock in August 2007
Image via Wikipedia

Tara Hunt, author of “The Whuffie Factor” spoke this week at a Social Media Club workshop held at Best Buy Headquarters in Minneapolis.

As she spoke about her prescriptions for companies opening up to the new social Internet, she offered this discussion point:

“Identify the values that are part of communities that businesses don’t share.  Does your business share these values?  If no, why not?”

This is a central question—and fear—organizations have about “opening up” do direct dialogues with customers across the enterprise.  One problem in discussing the issue is defining what precisely do we mean by a “value?”

Here’s the example I use in presentations, and I offer here as way of explaining how companies can be disconnected by a mismatch of values with customers.  It has to do with packaging.

About 20 years ago companies began to ship products—especially electronics, toys, and office supplies—in “clamshell” plastic.  We’ve all seen it—clear, sealed plastic shells of thick, durable plastic.  There were many advantages for companies to use clamshell packaging.  Conveyor belts can be used to pack boxes instead of human beings.  It results in much less breakage in shipping.   The UPC code can be located in a standardized location not on the product itself, still allowing for easy scanning.  Employee theft can be minimized.  Product returns can be sharply reduced because products could be refused as returns since “the packaging was opened.”

All of these are virtues for the company.   None of them benefit the consumer, except possibly for some lower prices on commodities.

And we all know the big problem—the personal danger—of opening clamshell packaging.  According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, or CPSC, plastic packaging has caused more than 25,000 injuries since 2004.

Most of the injuries come not from the plastic itself, they come from the devices we use to pierce the clamshell to get to the product—knives, scissors, teeth.

Amazon got hip to the issue and starting last year all of their products ship with “free-opening clamshell” packaging.  This new form of clamshell has a hinge at the bottom with flanges at the top.  You grip the two sides at the top and the package pops open easily.  No more frustration, no more injuries.

Amazon is aligned with my values of not wanting to injure myself to get to my new stapler or television cables.

Mark Cuban, the founder of Buy.com and flamboyant owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, flamed a company over this issue in a very funny blog post.

The lesson is for companies to think through the customer experience and refuse to accept the left-brained answers only.  Real ROI is lost when the customer experience is so unintentionally bad.  And as Amazon has proved, there is real brand equity to be captured by going against the prevailing practices in order to provide a great customer experience.

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About Rohn Jay Miller

I'm a strategic designer who works with clients who are transforming their business models because of change brought on by the Internet. Solving disruption is often a problem and an opportunity at the same time. Previously I was a founding partner of Ikonic/USWeb in San Francisco, and Senior Vice President--Product & Technology for Knight Ridder in San Jose.

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