Amazon’s Reduced Packaging Plans Open Pandora’s Box
While Amazon.com's impact on e-commerce is sizable, arguably one of the most impressive parts of the company has less to do with selling products and more about delivering them. In 2014, the company had a 0 percent logistics market share. As reported by Axios in 2020, just six years later, Amazon’s logistics arm overtook FedEx as the third-largest parcel deliverer in the country, with a 21 percent market share. Now, Amazon hopes to fortify these considerable gains by introducing more innovative and sustainable shipping options, previously touted by many in the industry as a golden ticket to continued company growth.
One of these is the option to ship items in manufacturers’ packaging only. Quietly, it has become the default for many products sold on Amazon. However, for the company and the consumer alike, it may be wise to keep this idea on the drawing board.
The Difference Between TP and TV
Without a doubt, Amazon’s new plan carries a substantial value proposition: the ability to reduce packaging for smaller or more durable goods. But there’s a big difference between shipping toilet paper and televisions. Diapers, tea bag boxes, and deflated pool toys can easily be shipped in original packaging, saving on redundant boxes and maximizing delivery van space. Yet, for every unbreakable towel roll and tea bag it sells, millions of other items are also sold, ranging from fragile kitchenware to sensitive electronics and even furniture. These items can be damaged far more easily, and 10 percent to 15 percent more exposure to quick stops or road bumps could be the difference between receiving a functional product or a broken one.
Porch Pirates Abound
Still, let’s assume for a second that a fragile or expensive item manages to overcome these obstacles and make its way unharmed to the porch just outside its final destination. There’s still one final obstacle before it gets inside: porch pirates. In the past, similar-sized items resembled each other in nondescript brown cardboard boxes, making package theft a gamble for opportunistic thieves. Now, items shipped in original packaging turn that gamble into a greater incentive for any would-be thief.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
Shippers specializing in larger-than-parcel goods know that delivering damage-free packages is about more than just packaging material. Even the most well-packed, robust box can only succeed if handled properly along the journey. That risk is even greater for large or more fragile items. Shippers with expertise in big and bulky goods devote special care to the packaging and handling of each shipment. Amazon’s system trades bespoke safety for automated efficiency, which means fragile, bulky goods can gum up the works at the company's distribution centers. Amazon must think more holistically about protecting these shipments rather than applying its reduced packaging plan to all goods.
One closing thought: Amazon's efforts around sustainability should be applauded, yet the ability to stack goods is at the heart of shipping efficiency. For years Amazon boxes have proven sturdy and stackable, an uncommon feature among manufacturer packaging. If doing away with these boxes increases damage claims and replacement shipments, the net impact to sustainability could be negative. Thus, Amazon should exercise caution before rolling out its packaging reduction plans.
Heather Hoover-Salomon is the CEO of uShip, the leading online marketplace for shipping services.
Heather Hoover-Salomon is the CEO of uShip, the leading online marketplace for shipping services. She started her career at uShip in 2005 as a public relations and marketing intern and has held several other key leadership roles at the company, including Chief Operating Officer and interim CEO. She accepted the full-time CEO position in May of 2023. Hoover-Salomon holds a bachelor’s degree in public relations from the University of Texas at Austin.