In a society that wants to become more “green” in hopes of protecting the environment, packaging and shipping materials have presented a controversial dilemma. Many people criticize companies for using excessive plastic and other materials to protect (or simply contain) their products and ask for greener options, yet many of these same people will complain to a company if their product is damaged or unstable. In this article, I will explore consumers’ wants and needs in terms of packaging through in-depth interviews and secondary research.

I began my research by asking people in the Austin area what they value: durability, environment-friendly options, or both? I interviewed women from four different age groups, but unfortunately the two men I interviewed did not have a strong opinion and were, therefore, left out. These women are as follows: Castine O’Neal (age 17), Misty Kinsinger (age 21), Lori Bajema (age 52), and Molly Rice (age 35).

Have you ever had an experience where you bought a product that was broken due to poor packaging? If so, can you recall what it was?

Castine: I bought eggs at the grocery store, making sure they were not cracked or damaged. By the time we got home (and I’m not a wild driver), one or two eggs were damaged from just bumping into other bags in the backseat. The styrofoam that they were packaged in was not durable enough.

Misty: When I worked at a tanning salon, we would receive shipments of cracked lotion bottles. I remember one time a whole bottle of “Crystal 12,” an 120 dollar value, arrived cracked all the way down the front. That bottle was made of thick plastic, but apparently it was able to be broken.

Lori: I did. When I got a Precious Moments figurine in the mail, it was cracked. Fortunately, the box had instructions for this problem and the company was prompt to send me a new one. They also included a shipping label to return the broken one for free.  

Molly: When I worked at Pluckers, we had problems with alcohol shipments all of the time. The cardboard dividers used to protect the bottles from “clinking” into each other were broken or too thin and some bottles would be cracked.

What is more important, in your opinion: To have a package that is in perfect condition and takes every precaution to keep your product safe, or to cut back on packaging in order to lower plastic usage and protect the environment?

Castine: I would say that it is more important to thoroughly protect the product that I am purchasing. If I am spending money to support their business, they can spend a little more to make sure the product is trustworthy.

Misty: The company that I am buying a product from should make sure it is shipped to me without being damaged. Otherwise, it is unlikely that I will buy from that company again because it was a hassle to complain to the company, return the product and then wait on a new one to be shipped.

Lori: The first one because it is a hassle to have to return it to the post office, or follow other procedures, if you are a working woman.

Molly: To protect the environment, while ensuring that my product is still protected. (laughs) I know that’s not picking a side but I can’t choose. I think companies, today, use too much packaging in many instances. However, they still need to protect the product that they are selling.

In your opinion, what types of products require the most/strongest packaging? What products do you think currently use more packaging than necessary?

Castine: I think shoes use too much packaging. Heavy boxes, many of which use excess material in order to be aesthetically pleasing, AND the inner tissue paper is a little excessive. I guess products that are at risk of being contaminated or have the ability to harm someone’s health would need the most thorough packaging.

Misty: Cellphones, such as iPhones, should use heavy packaging to protect it. Plasma TV’s and other expensive electronics, too. Also, I remember ordering something from HSN that came packaged in boxes within other boxes. Shipping packaging on items that aren’t that fragile, like clothes, could cut back on their supplies.

Lori: Breakable or fragile items require the most packaging. Food will need packaging as well so it does not spoil easily. (ponders)  Books from amazon use excessive packaging. It is highly unlikely that they will break, yet they come wrapped in numerous boxes and bubble wrap.

Molly: DVDs and CDs! They come wrapped in 2 or 3 layers of plastic, plus the stickers and other protectors. I think the box and one plastic covering would be sufficient. As for the products that require a lot of packaging, I guess perishable or breakable items.

Overall, my interviews revealed that many women in the Austin area value the protection of their products over the protection of the environment, despite their ages. Although the interviewees seemed to have some awareness of the environmental crises we face today, it was clear that they were more troubled by their experiences with damaged purchases. There are several factors that could have affected their opinions other than age, however. The first factor is location. Had I been able to interview a consumer in California (a state known for its desire to protect the environment), they might have responded differently. The second factor is gender because I was unable to discover how any males feel about this topic.

Because my in-depth interviews could not provide a substantial conclusion, I looked to the internet for more thorough data. Based on data provided by an abstract entitled “Market Segmentation Through Packaging,” it was revealed that many consumers value durability and convenience above any other factors. It is mentioned, though, that consumers would like to see more environmentally friendly packaging.

A more tangible example of consumers’  needs can be explained through Folger’s revolutionary change in packaging..

Before

After

In 2003, Procter & Gamble created the first plastic container for coffee grinds. The new AromaSeal high density polyethylene container represented a perfect example of a company listening to its consumers in order to fulfill their wants and needs.

Before the change, Folgers packaged their coffee in a 39 ounce steel can. Company spokesperson, Tonia Hyatt, explained that “consumers wanted ease of handling, something without sharp edges, and product that stays fresh day after day after it is opened.” In response, the new canister uses four panels to allow for an easier grip, and has a top that enables the container to be stacked on top of others. Most importantly, the canister uses a seal membrane to keep the coffee fresh and aromatic. Although the plastic container costs Folgers more money to produce, Hyatt explained that the needs of consumers were of greater concern.

Today, Folgers is one of the leading distributors in the coffee industry. The plastic container is used for all of their products due to positive responses from consumers. In my opinion, more companies should follow Folgers’ example and listen to their consumers’ wants and needs in order to increase customer satisfaction and promote brand loyalty.

 To learn more about the extensive processes used to test packaging durability, check out the video below. In this video, Krones Water Bottles reveals the many steps necessary to create a water bottle that meets regulations, can withstand shipping and other damaging situations, and increases sales for the company.

 

Market Segmentation Through Packaging (Monograph). (n.d.). Abstract retrieved from http://www.docstoc.com/docs/18502682/market-segmentation-through-packaging

Butschli, J. (2003, September). P&G Switches to Plastics for Folgers. Retrieved from http://www.packworld.com/package-16451

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