12/03/2014 05:51 EST | Updated 02/02/2015 05:59 EST

Stop the Struggle: It's Time for Frustration-Free Packaging


At his son's last birthday party, my colleague watched as his five-year-old, faced with a pile of gifts, excitedly tore through the wrapping paper like it was, well, paper. In mere seconds, the boy found out he got a new set of building blocks and a new outer space themed puzzle. He was able to open some of the gifts quickly and share his delight with friends and family. But there were the other gifts that remained in their boxes, strapped in with plastic ties, or visible through a fortress of clear hard plastic -- in particular, a certain fire truck that transformed into a robot, which was his number one request.

Why did it remain unopened? Because they didn't have scissors, pliers or other sharp objects readily on hand to cut open up the gifts. Even if they did, it would have been them -- the parents -- opening the gifts, not him, the birthday boy. And that's not fun.

With the holidays just around the corner, this got me thinking about the issue of "frustration-free" packaging.

The term frustration-free packaging can mean ease of any aspects of the users experience with a product. Whether it's the simplicity with which product information is relayed, to the carrying, opening and instructions for, or its actual use.

Not only is complex wrapping simply no fun for the kids receiving gifts packaged in such a manner, the fact is it's a much larger issue for the most rapidly growing segment of our population -- older adults. As companies explore more ways to tap into and cement their products' position with older adults and their families, identifying appropriate packaging should be one of their top priorities. Whether it's issues such as declining vision, arthritis, or muscle weakness, there are many factors that can make the seemingly "simple" act of opening a package not so simple at all.

Heavy, intricately sealed packages are anything but consumer friendly for the millions of aging Canadians. If the consumer can't properly read, carry or open the packaged product or is frustrated in the process of trying, there's a strong chance that they will pass on the purchase. Knowing this, companies should be working toward universal standards of consumer-friendly packaging as they design for their products.

There must be a holistic approach that considers the environment as well. As resources, even land for pulp tree production gets more finite, manufacturers and producers must find ways to reduce excessive and difficult packaging.

For consumers, the best action to take is to look for products that are universally considerate of the potential end user when it comes to design, weight and ease of opening. Consumers should demand, either directly or through purchasing power, that other manufacturers follow suit.

In the meantime, the search for -- and consumer support of -- frustration-free packaging involves looking for items with these qualities:

  • Print and design are large enough to read - Look for packaging that can be read easily - from the opening to the use, including assembly instructions or portions or nutritional information, for example.
  • Lightweight enough to carry - Single-use items, or packages with built-in handles are helpful.
  • Easy to open - Ideally, packaging doesn't require any tools for opening. Paper-related products are not only the most frustration-free type of packaging, but they're also one of the most recyclable and sustainable at this point.

Some companies are in fact starting to make important changes to offer lighter weight packaging, single-use items to choose from over heavier bulk packages. They are also creating lightweight packing materials that create a protective and cushioned ride for items being shipped vs. intricate ties and shrink wrap.

Large companies like Amazon have taken great effort to ensure packages are easy to open and recyclable while still providing protection for the product. It is evident that they want it to be a pillar of their business to reduce or even eliminate "wrap rage." It's likely one of the main reasons why they have become such a retail juggernaut.

Nestle in the U.K. has also committed to "inclusive design", using special gloves to test the ease of opening a product by simulating the way an arthritis sufferer's movement and strength are affected. The result has led to the redesign of packaging for some popular food products.

These are two great examples. But the list needs to be longer because overall, there are more and more people for whom easy to carry/read/open packages are a must have.

While the best way to voice displeasure about difficult packaging is by simply not buying the product, consumers can also voice their concerns to the businesses and tell them the types of products that would be ideal. Then businesses can communicate this feedback to their suppliers so they can create solutions earlier in the supply chain. Ultimately, if consumers clearly demand frustration-free packaging through their voices or purchasing dollars, companies will have to follow suit.

As we enter a season of gift giving, we can all consider shopping with regard for more than just the gift inside the package, but of the entire experience of the product because of the package. Not only will the ease be appreciated by the recipient, the purchasing trends of consumers will help pave the way for hassle-free packaging-filled holidays in the years ahead.