Dell’s Packaging Excess

John points to Matt’s blog, where (a couple of months back), he documented Dell’s peculiar packaging practices. The photo in Matt’s post pretty much speaks for itself, but here’s an excerpt:

The packaging for these two unremarkable sticks of memory amounted to no less than seven boxes of increasing size (think japanese dolls), 8 peices of packaging foam, and one long strip of “air bubbles”. Two of the boxes contained absolutely nothing except for packaging foam, and were just used to pad out the medium size boxes, so that the boxes containing the actual ram didn’t bounce around. The two sticks could easily have fit in just one of the smaller boxes!

Speaking of packaging, why do those ridiculous bubble packages exist? They’re ubiquitous, impossible to get into and everybody loathes them. Companies that use them (and who doesn’t) are sending the wrong message to their customers–“we like this packaging, and don’t care if you hate it. You don’t matter.”

A company in an undifferentiated gadget market (like, say, memory sticks) should switch packaging to something simpler and more usable, and make a big deal about it. All factors being equal, plenty of consumers would switch brands (and pay a little more) simply for greener and easier to open packaging.


  1. If by bubble packages you mean the two clear vacuum-formed plastic sheets glued together with the goods bettween them (because that’s not what I see in the other blogger’s photo), then the reason they’re ubiquitous is that retailers like them.

    1. They cut down of theft because by being hard to open, they make it difficult to get the product out in the shop to negate the use of anti-theft tags.

    2. They cut down on returns. If people have to destroy the packaging to get the good out they are less likely to return the product for reasons other than complete failure.

    So, while everyone hates them, I doubt they’re going away anytime soon.

  2. This is somewhat of a continuation from my comments to the wind turbine post.

    First of all, I have received somewhat similar shipments from Amazon (large 24x12x9in box with lots of air-filled “pillows” for something the size of an SD card). It is wasteful and I wish companies wouldn’t be wasteful.

    But I see two factors involved:

    1. Companies are (presumably) cost-efficient, not eco-efficient (and it’s a whole other topic as to why governments and industry allow that to be the case). Like many, you say you would pay the difference for eco-efficiency, but how do you measure that. Cost-efficiency is immediately comparable in the advertized prices, but you have no way to objectively compare eco-efficiency of 2 companies. So if some item is X dollars more expensive at a vendor which advertizes itself as eco-efficient (and hopefully has some 3rd party certification of such), you’ll buy it from them. But what is X? 10, 100, 1%, 10%, what about 30%?

    A company might do some research, find that the average eco-consumer in their field is willing to pay 5% more, but being eco-efficient costs them 8%. Then they have to decide whether they can afford to cover the spread or whether that will put them near or over the edge of survivability.

    2. What if the customer is not always right? Have you shipped hundreds of widgets every day and dealt with returns and customers dissatisfied due to breakage? Perhaps companies with such experience have decided that over-packing is the best way to go. Being human, it’s not only about money, it also has to be practical and not too difficult to implement.

    I think your analysis of the market (“plenty would switch”) is rather cursory and doesn’t take into account many factors I humbly suggest you may have overlooked. In other words, you are not the only consumer they must deal with, others are putting different constraints on the big equation that computes whether they stay in business (have to assume that’s the goal).

    I do support you in the effort to make eco-efficiency a non-negligeable factor in that big equation, but I think you need to be more convincing than just saying “it shouldn’t be so.”

  3. All things considered, I hate those damn bubble packages…when I get a new toy, I’d rather not have to go into my toolbox for a hacksaw just to get at it.

  4. There could be some consumer psychology levers being pulled here too ? In general, it’s hard to get people to pay a whole lot for a very tiny thing – making it look bigger might help. ( as in, say, perfume bottles ).

    It’ll be interesting to see, in the future, how nanobot manufacturers sort out their packaging . . .

  5. Another possibility is that really small packages might be prone to loss during shipping — a certain minimum box size might work best for all those FedEx and UPS conveyor belts, planes, and drivers.

    But the vacuum-sealed packaging uniformly sucks for me as a customer, and I will pay (and have paid) more for something not made that way.

    I would have liked Shure’s in-ear headphones better if they had come in a proper box. Maybe enough complaints from Mark Cuban and Chris Pirillo and David Pogue will make something happen eventually.

    Cali Lewis from GeekBrief discovered Belkin perforates theirs in the back to make it easy to open.

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