Although Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy, my holiday spirit is often dampened by a little mid-morning Christmas Day angst. I suffer from a disease known as “Wrap Rage.” The disease affects millions of people around the world, but there are no medications available to manage the symptoms. My outbreaks are usually triggered when unwrapping the gifts my children receive. With two youngsters in my household, a lot of the gifts we exchange every year are toys. Most of these toys are packaged by evil companies that deliberately create the most complex, elaborate packaging systems they can imagine. These toys are housed in plastic clamshells cases and secured with wire ties which are reinforced by plastic bindings. As a result, it takes 15-20 minutes to open up a toy that should be unwrapped in 30 seconds. Not only does this frustrate the parents, but it is cruel to the children which have to sit idly for 15-20 minutes before they can play with the toy. Many of us had given up hope until recently we discovered a cure – Amazon.com’s Frustration Free Packaging (FFP).
What is Frustration Free Packaging?
FFP products are designed to be opened quickly and easily using a box cutter or a knife. The packaging materials are free of the evil wire ties and plastic clamshells that often frustrate consumers. Many naively assume that the elaborate packaging strategies employed by consumer product manufacturers are necessary to ensure damage-free shipping. However, Amazon.com has collaborated with the product manufacturers to design alternative packaging materials which are just as secure, but hassle-free. Another significant benefit of FFP is that the materials are recyclable.
A Sufferer of Wrap Rage
Amazon.com launched FFP in 2008. In the past year, it has been able to successfully to enroll 350 products from 30 vendors in the FFP program. The merchandise consists of a wide range of categories including toys, beverages, consumer electronics, health and personal care. Suppliers participating in the program include Mattel, VTech, Microsoft, Garmin, Kingston, Seagate and Western Digital among others. I enthusiastically applaud Amazon.com’s efforts with FFP. Who would have thought that packaging approaches could be used to differentiate one retailer from another? I would certainly pay 10% more for FFP and definitely would switch retailers based upon availability of products with this packaging model. FFP is an example of how Amazon.com is the most innovative company in the world (a subject I will leave for another post).
Extending the use of FFP
Fortunately, I work in an industry and a company, GXS, that can help to increase the spread of FFP. One of the most popular electronic transactions exchanged by B2B e-Commerce service providers is the product catalog. An electronic catalog is published by the manufacturer of a consumer product to a retailer. Catalogs consist of a set of attributes that describe each product. For example, there are attributes for branding, packaging, weights, pricing, promotions, tax and regulatory information.
There are two popular methods for exchanging catalogs electronically, which is generally known as data synchronization. In the US, the Department Store and Apparel sector developed a data sync standard based upon VICS guidelines back in the 1990s. More recently, the Mass Merchandise, Home Improvement (DIY), Grocery, Chain Drug and Convenience Store sectors have developed the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) sponsored by GS1. See Melanie Ligons’ recent post for a brief history of the standards.
Data Synchronization and FFP
I think that both VICS and GDSN should add item attributes to their data synchronization models, which would enable retailers to assess whether FFP versions of the products are available. Four true or false attributes could be added for each item:
- Plastic_Clamshell_Casing = True or False
- Plastic_Binders = True or False
- Wire_Ties = True or False
- Recyclable_Packaging = True or False
An alternative approach would be to simply add a single field for FFP. However, I suspect some of Amazon.com’s competitors might object to using a certification developed by a specific retailer. I will leave the logical data modeling to the standards committees, because I am indifferent as to the approach as long as the information can be transmitted easily from suppliers to retailers. Buyers at major retail chains would then be armed with the ability to easily identify FFP products to carry in their merchandise assortments. I cannot overstate the sense of urgency for these new extended attributes. There is no time to waste. Let’ start the modeling now so that everyone can benefit in the 2010 holiday season!