Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Wrap Rage

"Wrap rage: Injuring oneself by using a sharp object to try to open hard-to-open plastic packaging like the kind they sell cheap consumer electronics or household items in."
Mackenzie Carpenter of the Pittsburg Post-Gazette sometimes is credited with coining the phrase " wrap rage". Others say it was the BBC, which reported more than 67,000 injuries in a single year by people trying to get at the goods once they brought them home.

Whoever came up with the phrase, it's an apt description for the usual consumer response to those clamshell plastic prisons and endless twisties in which everything from computer hard drives and cell phones to Barbie dolls and Dora books are imprisoned. As McClatchey's Jackie Crosby reported a couple of days ago, this is the scene nearly everyone has to face on Christmas morning:
The wrapping paper is in piles. The ribbons are in shreds. Now it's time to get out the heavy artillery: scissors, box cutters, screwdrivers, ice picks, sheet-metal shears, and perhaps a hacksaw or two for good measure.

Freeing the toys, electronics and other gifts of the holiday season from their bulletproof packaging can require the strength of Superman and patience of Job.

"You have to run around the house, find scissors, cut it open, then you hurt your fingers trying to pull it apart, then there's these twisty things you have to untwist, plus the batteries," said Cynthia Salone, 8, of Minneapolis, recalling a recent packaging battle. "It can take 10 minutes to open."
* * *
"It's very, very, very frustrating," said Ann Hunsaid, 76, a retired teacher from Minot, N.D. "Especially for someone like me who is used to simple packaging. I do not follow this new kind of thing."
Most of us assume that manufacturers who encase their products in packages that need a jackhammer to open do so to discourage theft. But there may be more to the story than that. As blogger Sarah Gilbert pointed out earlier this month, it also gives manufacturers control over marketing and display at the retail level.

Consumer Reports posits those two reasons, and more, in suggesting [subscription required to read the whole article] that increased clamshell packaging is due to these factors:
  • Plastics. When plastic became cheaper than cardboard, about a decade ago, manufacturers were able to wrap goods in new ways. Many of those options proved harder to open than the cardboard box.
  • Safety. Federal safety laws require seals that will show evidence of tampering, and child-safety caps on most over-the-counter drugs. That often makes them adult-proof, too, says Laura Bix, assistant professor of packaging at Michigan State University.
  • Theft. Meanwhile, shoplifting losses at retail stores in the U.S. are an estimated $15 billion a year, according to Ernst & Young, leading to electronic tags and big, sealed packaging even for tiny items, so they can’t be pocketed.
  • Overseas manufacturing. Products were once largely made in the U.S., but many are now made abroad and must withstand a long sea voyage in a cargo-ship container, says Chris Byrne, editor-at-large of Toys & Family Entertainment, a trade magazine. Rigid plastic containers excel at keeping everything in place.
  • “Try me” packaging. Children are encouraged to touch and interact with playthings before buying them. This has led to the creation, for instance, of what might be called Prisoner Barbie--a doll with shackled accessories. They are easy to see but hard to steal, Byrne says.
Some suggest voting with our wallets to avoid the impenetrable clamshell. Others say that's hopeless, after three decades of federal prosecutors ignoring federal antitrust laws, too many products have little competition and none that doesn't conspire to adopt the same kind of clamshell packages.

We think the simplest, most effective way of ridding the planet of hard-to-open packages would be for one of the TV networks to launch a new reality show -- one where the CEOs of consumer products companies are put on a desert island and, to earn the right of return, they have to open their own products on camera, using only their bare hands, toes, and teeth.

Until then, we will have to be content with watching Stephen Colbert opening a new calculator:


Linda L. said...

Assume you've seen the new "OpenX" tool, advertised on TV as made specifically to defeat this particular type of plastic packaging:


Only trouble is, you need another tool to open the package it comes in, which is -- you guessed it -- plastic clamshell.

Bryan said...

I have a tool that is used for scoring plexiglas to break it to size and a pair of metal snips that work as long as the item is big enough, but the special plastic film they use on CDs and DVDs is a real challenge - I almost always damage the case when opening one.

This is absurd.

www.muebles-en-barcelona.com said...

It can't work in actual fact, that's what I think.