Friday, May 18, 2007

The Pivot Factor

In a normal economy, new products are introduced at a premium price, because the demand exceeds the supply. Gradually, manufacturers automate the production of larger quantities of the product, which lowers the cost of production, and the manufacturer who has the lowest production cost and the most efficient distribution is able to capture the largest market share. Eventually, the cost of goods is lowered to the point where the product is so poorly made, consumers reject it, and the product stabilizes at the “comfort zone” between poor quality and high cost.

Manufacturers of poor quality products are always looking for ways to lure the consumer away from thoughtful cost/benefit analysis, hoping to force them into an emotional purchase decision based on styling, marketing or merchandising. But sometimes, manufacturers are forced to make the product less desirable due to forces outside their control.

For example, when demand exceeds supply, theft goes up. To protect retailers, manufacturers often have to use bulky, hard-to-conceal packaging, pilfer-proof seals and expensive anti-counterfeiting holograms.

I’ve come to hate the now-common “blister packaging,” where the product is concealed inside some kind of thick, transparent Lexan bubble that is impervious to scissors, wire cutters, 9mm handgun rounds and industrial lasers. Many times, I’ve cut myself deeply trying to remove the product from its shell. Sometimes I’ve damaged the product. It’s hard to feel a sense of consumer lust for something that wears the retailing equivalent of a chastity belt.

Another pet peeve is the way DVDs and CDs are packaged. They come tightly wrapped in an impossibly thin, seemingly delicate cellophane wrapper that is folded over and glued on the thin edge of the case. You’d think you could slip a fingernail under that fold, but you’d be wrong. I fuss with them for 5 minutes or so, becoming more and more irritated, scraping repeatedly at that fold, wondering how it could be so difficult to open, when a 15 year old kid can quickly open a pack of Marlboros sealed exactly the same way. Eventually, I find a kitchen knife and leave an ugly scratch across the case as I slice at the cellophane.

When pharmaceutical companies package capsules in those foil-backed blister packs, the theory is that you simply push the capsule through the foil to remove it. But more often than not, the foil is stronger than the gelatin capsule, and I wind up licking the spilled powder off the edge of the sink.

The other day I was opening a gallon jug of windshield washer fluid. The cap was sealed with a cellophane band, and once I got that off, I found a foil seal over the mouth of the jug. Why? Is someone sneaking into auto supply stores and siphoning this valuable blue liquid out of the bottles to sell on the black market?

So the manufacturers of these goods have reached a balance point at which they make the product at a reasonable cost, distribute it quickly and efficiently to retailers, and then irritate the customer just enough so that they don’t lose the desire to purchase the product. I’m sure there’s a Marketing term for it: The Pivot Factor. That’s the emotional point where you see the packaging of the product, turn on your heel and leave the store rather than deal with it.


burton said...

I am such a frequent buyer of CDs and DVDs that I have the touch now when unwrapping. However, if you miss, you could be peeling "sticker goo" from your product case for quite some time. For whatever reason, I am plagued with actually caring that my cases are immaculate, so this "sticker goo" gets worked on until it is removed completely.

It is funny that you mention this. It is incredibly difficult to get into your windshield washer fluid, but quite easy to just open the top of the bleach container or just turn the 409 bottle from the "off" position to "on". I wonder what the method of madness is. I used to think these seals were safety-related.

Anonymous said...

Now you know why I don't own many CD's. They do have this nifty gadge made just for opening them. It is a cutter of sorts that fits over the case and cuts the top of the plastic off. Easy as pie. Tell your friend Burton that there is a product called "Goo Gone" that removes that sticky stuff from price tags and CD stickers.

Kim said...

Toothbrush packaging is the worst. It's not bulky enough to prevent theft (not speaking from experience, of course) but strong enough to cut you when you're trying to get the toothbrush out. It wouldn't be as bad if it was just a uniform bubble around the toothbrush. You could cut the top (with a pair of bolt cutters) and just pull the toothbrush out. But they have to almost shrink wrap it around to fit the shape of the toothbrush which is alway thicker around the handle. So, you have to cut the entire length of the packaging in order to get it completely out.

The last time I checked, toothbrushes were not toxic so why the difficult packaging?