Business

Chilling ‘wrap rage:’ Hasbro and Amazon pack toys with less stuff

Hasbro has a present for anyone who has been driven into a state of “wrap rage” while wrestling with an impossible-to-open package.

The Providence maker of such childhood favorites as Mr. Potato Head and Play-Doh is liberating its toys from the fortress of shipping materials that can mar any gift-giving occasion. After years of working with Amazon, Hasbro says more than 100 of its products can be purchased through the online retail giant in “frustration-free” packaging.

“When customers receive a package at home, they want to get into it very quickly and not work through any materials seen in a brick-and-mortar package,” said Jeff Jackson, the Hasbro vice president who oversees the partnership with Amazon. “When it’s a frustration-free package, all of that ‘stuff’ is gone.”

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Hasbro is just one of about 1,000 companies that have collaborated with Amazon to simplify how they package products sold online. Amazon came up with the idea roughly 10 years ago after seeing that “wrap rage” was one of the top complaints from customers.

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Back then, most orders left at the door were in bulky boxes with the contents inside secured by some combination of wire ties, plastic clam shells, paper stuffing, and bubble wrap (which did second duty as a poppable play toy for kids while their parents struggled to open the package).

Amazon reached out to big manufacturers whose goods it sells and tried to get as many companies on board. Initially, Amazon launched frustration-free packaging with 19 items; now the program has more than 2 million products.

For example, the Amazon box for Hasbro’s Bootsie, an animated furry cat, is about 25 percent smaller than the traditional version and comes simply wrapped in a plastic bag. Meanwhile, the regular shipment is a package within a package, secured with multiple twist ties and layers of plastic to a cardboard display box.

Jackson said it only takes seconds to open a frustration-free package compared with minutes for a typical brick-and-mortar package. Though it primarily ships its frustration-free packages through Amazon, Hasbro also offers them to other online vendors. Brick-and-mortar stores still get the elaborate packaging that allows the toys to be displayed on shelves, but Hasbro has committed to making all of those packaging materials recyclable, too.

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Because e-commerce packages don’t have to look pretty to sell, Amazon was free to experiment with ways to unload excessive materials.

“In the same way a house has curb appeal, packages in the retail environment have shelf appeal. But packaging for the online environment is very different,” said Casey Taylor, a partner at consulting firm Bain & Co. who specializes in customer strategy for retail clients. “You’ve already made the purchase online, so the most important part is that it comes to you protected and with as little packaging as possible.”

Hasbro has been working to reduce the large amount of packaging (above) that often surrounds shipped items, such as its Bootsie.
Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
Hasbro has been working to reduce the large amount of packaging (above) that often surrounds shipped items, such as its Bootsie.

Hasbro began designing new packages with Amazon seven years ago for a few key products. Essentially, the company designs the tightest and lightest possible packaging while still ensuring the toy makes it to someone’s doorstep intact, said Jacquie Patterson, a senior packaging engineer at Hasbro.

“An e-commerce package is getting touched probably 20-plus different times, so the structure has to be designed in a way to withstand the shipping process,” Jackson said.

Manufacturers such as Hasbro are required to go through a certification process at Amazon to get a package approved as “frustration-free.” It undergoes a performance test simulating the journey of a package, including drops, compression, and other physical tests, that can take up to two to three weeks.

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Despite the obvious benefits of less packaging, not to mention the lower blood pressure, some consumers may not want too little wrapping with their goods, said Taylor, the Bain consultant. Some are not inclined to sacrifice the “wow” factor, especially during holiday season, when gifts are expected to come in bright and shiny packages. “The showmanship of retail will continue to be important,” said Taylor.

While it may cost manufacturers less to ship smaller, lighter packages, companies do have to make a sizable investment to make frustration-free packaging. Indeed, the biggest obstacle Amazon faces with manufacturers is their need to make two types of packages, complicating the logistics of getting the product to customers, said Brent Nelson, a senior packaging manager for the Internet seller.

“It’s a different supply chain and fulfillment process than brick-and-mortar, but I wouldn’t say it’s an insurmountable task by any means,” Nelson said. “I think Hasbro clearly saw the benefit of having two channels.”

Thilo Henkes, who specializes in advising businesses on packaging for L.E.K Consulting, estimated it can cost anywhere from 70 percent to 300 percent more for companies to produce environmentally friendly products. At the retail level, that probably works out to pennies more a package, but Henkes said companies can use the streamlined package as a marketing advantage.

“A lot of companies think, ‘Even if the environmentally friendly package is a bit more expensive, it is worth it because it helps me differentiate myself with the consumer. The consumer is more likely to visit me,’ ” Henkes explained.

Amazon says the packaging program has helped it meet sustainability goals. The company says the program has reduced packaging material by more than 244,000 tons over 10 years.

Hasbro, too, has whittled away at all the stuff it includes in packages: In 2007, the company eliminated tissue paper in shipping cartons and wire ties three years later. In 2015, about 90 percent of its packaging was recyclable, and it wants to reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfills by 50 percent by 2025.

“Amazon has really led the way to show companies that you can optimize this experience,” said Nina Goodrich, executive director of Sustainable Packaging Coalition. “I think the days of getting a tiny package in a massive box are over.”

The streamlined packaging is about 25 percent smaller than the traditional version and comes simply wrapped in plastic.
Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
The streamlined packaging is about 25 percent smaller than the traditional version and comes simply wrapped in plastic.

Alex Gailey can be reached at alexandra.gailey@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alex_gailey.