Rant: online retailers and their crappy packaging jobs

Rant: online retailers and their crappy packaging jobs

Summary: Attention, my fellow geeks. You have your orders. Now fight. Fight back hard. This battle can be won. This battle must be won.


Rise up, ye geeks, techies, IT dudes, ye nerds of all ages. Finally, we have a cause that can unite us all.

Whether you're a Windows weirdo, a Linux loon, or an Apple addict, we have a cause worth fighting for together, a cause worthy of our combined strength, intelligence, influence, and good ol' American ingenuity.

There's a big problem out there. It affects us all. And it's in need of fixin'.

I am speaking not of malware, not of cyberterrrorism, not of spam or botnets or other ugly things. I'm talking about a serious threat to our livelihoods, to our families, to that which we hold most dear -- our consumer electronics. A threat, perhaps, even, to our very manhood (and womanhood) itself.

I have come before you to speak to you of what may well be the greatest threat of our times: crappy shipping packaging.

For how can we get our technology if not in a box? How can we build our entertainment media centers, our home servers, our overblown family networks, our monuments to electronic perversity worshipped from our couches, recliners, and comfy chairs throughout the land?

How, indeed?

Okay, okay. You, the whiny guy with the inhaler and comb-over in the back. You want me to get to the point, do you? Fine.

I'm talking, specifically, about how online retailers like Amazon and Newegg ship computer parts. The way in which they put the items you and I buy into the boxes they send out.

Here at Camp David, my wife and I decided it was time to build a media tank to backup the contents of our thousand+ DVDs. With 2 terabyte hard drives coming down in price to as low as $129, it finally seemed feasible to load up a 'puter with drives and build a big ol' tank with a ton of storage.

Anyway, stay with me here. This is important.

Last week, I placed an order with Newegg, one of my favorite retailers. I've long liked Newegg for their excellent Web site, quality of customer comments, pretty good prices, and even pleasant customer service.

The first carton arrived today via UPS. In it was the mobo, RAM, power supply, and two OEM hard drives. Please take a minute to notice this picture, which I've repeated from the top of the article for your convenience:

That little bit of paper was the only packing material in the carton. Everything was thrown in the box, loose, and it all just rattled around.

We're talking hard drives here, people, rattling around next to a power supply, exposed, with no protection, banging around in a big box for the entire trip!

Honestly, I'm reasonably sure the drives will be alright, because drives are relatively robust these days. But I don't like the idea that I just don't know how much abuse they took on the way here.

I especially don't like how poorly the box was packed.

Newegg is not alone and this is not a one-time incident. We've noticed this sort of minimal packaging before from both Newegg and Amazon. I've heard from friends that other online retailers are just as bad.

Last year, we ordered a printer from Amazon. The printer's box was about half the size of the carton it was shipped in, and there was nothing to prevent if from flying around the shipping carton but a single clump of packing paper. That printer turned out to be dead-on-arrival. Gee...I wonder why?

Amazon is particularly strange. For some reason, Amazon will pack a book like it's made of glass, but throw an Xbox 360 loose in a box with a token piece of packing paper.

Back in the day, us geeks would at least have the recourse of a local computer store, even if it was nothing more than a CompUSA. But today, all that's left to us locally is Best Buy, and I refuse to grace them with the term "computer store". I don't know about you, but I hate going to Best Buy as much as I hate going shoe shopping or getting a hair cut (and that's a lot of hate).

Although both Newegg and Amazon have occasionally been cool with returns and refunds, many online retailers have a restocking fee. So if you buy something, find out it's gotten crushed or banged up in shipping, to return it you either have to fight with some customer service droid or eat a restocking fee.

I'm mad as heck and I don't think we should take it anymore!

It's time for online retailers to clean up their act and return to those days of yore when bubble wrap and packing peanuts were routinely used to protect and cradle our sacred stuff.

I call upon all of you: geeks, nerds, techies, IT folk. I call upon the people you love and those who love you. I call upon you to stand up and fight back.

No? Don't like the standing up thing? Okay, fine. Sit back down on your couch. You can do this sitting down as well.

I call on you to recline back and fight! Complain to your favorite retailers. Bitch them out on their comment boards -- oh, don't even begin to tell me you don't know how to do that!

Tell them you're not willing to take crappy packaging that puts our purchases at risk, raises all our stress levels, and gives us yet more reasons to have to fix our parents, brothers, sisters, in-laws, cousins, and creepy friends of your moms' computers.

It's time for online retailers to stop packing boxes with a few measly strips of paper.

To misquote the great Jean-Luc Picard, "NO! NOOOOOOO!!!"

"I will not sacrifice our consumer electronics. We've made too many compromises already, too many retreats. They eliminate the bubble wrap, and we fall back. They pack with paper, and we fall back. Not again. The line must be drawn here! This far and no further! And we will make them pay for what they've done!"

Attention, my fellow geeks. You have your orders. Now fight. Fight back hard. This battle can be won. This battle must be won.

Don't TalkBack here. Instead, log your chubby little fingers into Amazon and Newegg -- and all those other online retailers (you know who they are) -- and tell them to pack nice or pack it up.

Update: fixed a math error. Sigh. Always with the math errors.

Topics: Hardware, Amazon, Browser, E-Commerce, IT Employment


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • Newegg and packing paper

    This must be a relatively recent development. Most everything I get from Newegg is packed in styrofoam packing peanuts--I used to wish they'd use the packing puffs that disintegrate in water.
    • Newegg was better in the past


      Ditto for most of the other online heavyweights. Amazon has become more hit and miss as of late likewise. In their defense, a portion of their goods comes from smaller, associative partners, where things are not always as consistent. But still, they fly their flag under the Amazon umbrella banner.

      I get a percentage of my stuff directly through distributor channels, but supplement enough from B&M and online retailers to recognize the author is not blowing smoke here. Sloppy, substandard packaging is becoming more commonplace. Some of the things I've seen with my own eyes have left me speechless. But not enough to prevent me from letting each and every offending party have an earful.

      Tip: Do not to take your frustration out on front line CS personnel. Insist to talk to a dept manager whenever possible, who'll have a bigger say in implementing - and changing! - company SOPs. [On the OEM side of things, I've gone to the top of Seagate Corporate in the past to ensure my grievances were heard]
  • Not really a rant

    It's not a rant if you rant like a retard.

    We have better things to do than attend your useless rants and insults so go fight your windmills and leave us alone, OK, david?

    By the way how would you like to be packed when we send you to the asylum? Don't pick a package that's too small, you need to make room for the strait-jacket, remember.
    OS Reload
    • Apparently you don't or else you wouldn't have read his blog.

      @OS Reload: [i][b]We have better things to do[/b] than attend your useless rants and insults so go fight your windmills and leave us alone, OK, david?[/i]

      And certainly not have wasted your time whining about it.
      • I only read the first paragraphs and part of the second. Didn't take long

        I bet that's what most readers do whit david's "articles," if they get as far as the second paragraph, of course. I'm sure most don't.
        OS Reload
  • Simple Math

    Cost of replacement of items damaged during shipping minus cost of improved packaging for all items. The the answer is negative, they are making more money with their present approach.

    Besides, we do not need more stuff in our landfills.
    • RE: Rant: online retailers and their crappy packaging jobs

      @Economister Got some numbers for us to back that up? I'd like to see them.
    • Simple BS math

      Simple BS math like this also drives acceptable standards downward. It is irresponsible at a minimum, and worse, a shoddy form of gambling knowing the "cards" will always be stacked in your favor as the dispenser, simply by pushing cost of return shipping - and any subsequent inconvenience - onto your customers' shoulders, all born from your up front (and calculative) indifference.

      Unfortunately, it appears more and more retailers are taking this corner cutting, "bottom line" approach as of late. Sad but true. But to suggest that it laudable or even pragmatic points to yet another example of LCD business practices in action.
      • PS

        It may also be that the peeps they hire at dirt cheap wages to package their shipments are becoming increasingly indifferent and/or overworked. Likewise for the sup's they hire to oversee their line crews. This may be little more than the fallout one should expect to see when you keep ratcheting up LCD business practices.
  • RE: Rant: online retailers and their crappy packaging jobs

    A restocking charge for a return that was originally crushed in transit? That explains a lot!
  • Agreed!

    Pretty crappy if they package it like a dump. Could it be they want their return department also to have something to do ? Handle your returns (due to crappy packaging) ? But that cannot be beneficial to their overall consumer ratings.

    Not sure if one can be all that happy if they have it shipped to the store closest to them (if that's an option) cause you wouldn't know how those products were shipped.

    A lot of times also a small item is packed in a big box. Talk about waste !
    • Some packaging is just like any other of david's "articles"

      So many words to say basically nothing that's of any value.<br><br>what a waste!
      OS Reload
  • More Math

    A petabyte is 1000 terabytes. One fifth is 200 terabytes. 2TB per hard drive is 100 drives. Where do you buy these 100 drives for less than the cost of a MacBook Air? That looks like about $15-$20 per drive.<br><br>If I am wrong, please set me straight. Otherwise I would like a few of those drives.
    • RE: Rant: online retailers and their crappy packaging jobs

      @Economister Ah, nuts. Math. It's always an unflinching foe. Looks like I've got an article edit to do.
      David Gewirtz
      • You are an incurable optimist david

        Anything short of editing it all out is a waste of time.

        Do you have what it takes to do it, david? Are you man enough to edit it all out?
        OS Reload
  • Overstatement

    I agree with you in principle, but you went a bit overboard. That's going to put a lost of people off. For myself, I kind of enjoyed some of the hyperbole and overdramatization (is that a legal word?). Rants can be fun, no matter the subject; I enjoy doing it myself some times to let off steam. If that's what you were doing, go for it; if you're trying to get people to take you seriously, tone it down a bit.
    • When you order components like HDDs


      and find them sliding around loose upon opening the box they were shipped in, you have every right to go a bit overboard. Ballistic would be more apropos tbk.

      At least the author dealt with it a witful manner (hyperbole has its moments), and thru the disseminating power of his blogging pulpit.
  • RE: Rant: online retailers and their crappy packaging jobs

    I found the article fun to read.

    @OS Reload: shouldn't you be in school? Or does your 7th grade class have the day off today?

    Tom Hargreaves
    • RE: Rant: online retailers and their crappy packaging jobs


      +1, thanks. What a whiner.
  • RE: Rant: online retailers and their crappy packaging jobs

    I've only had a couple instances of that kind of packaging and never with anythiing of much cost. The two times I complaiined, they always made it right by replacing the item on one, and sending more of the second (DVDs-cracked some casess). BTW, carriers won't accept responsibility for that kind of damage so go right to the horse's butt, I mean, mouth; the vendor. And use pictures.