Put a Sock In It!

by Randy Cassingham

Some packaging really makes me ...well... cranky.

Take these two packages of socks, for instance, that I bought from the same store on the same day. Both are packages of six pairs, and both are the same size. One is easy to get into, the other is not.

Far from it.

They're two different national brands, as you can probably see even though I've made the photos fairly small. (Let's see if I can squeeze all of them comfortably around these ads!)

I did notice right away that the black socks were attached to the package by using one of those plastic double-ended "T" things, which are very commonly seen in the clothing industry these days. (Though why they have to put the "T" inside the seam so many times on shirts and pants drives me nuts: that means you can never get them out! I don't want chunks of the price tag stuck in my clothes until the end of time; I'm not Minnie Pearl, dammit!)

Anyway, yeah: I saw that on the front of the sock, and you can see the other end on the back of the package, as shown here. At least this way it's really easy to cut the thing to get the socks loose, right? Just turn the package over and cut it off -- no fear about accidentally cutting through the sock if you attack with scisors on the other end. Easy!

You might think so, but you'd be wrong -- which of course is why I'm cranky at this one.

Because the two ends that show -- front and back -- are not the two ends of the same "T" thing! There are two of them! One from the front to somewhere in the middle of the pack of socks, and a second one from the back to the middle! So once you get it all severed, you're only half-way done! And yes, now you have to stick the scissors into the sock, risking cutting it.

So much for easy.

Once I got them all apart, I was floored by something else: the black socks are huge! I mean, remember I got some white socks the same day? The labels show they're the same size ("6-12"), yet look at this:

These aren't calf socks, either -- they're "crew" socks, just like the white ones. I thought this was going to be the start of yet another cranky rant, but I tried them on -- and they fit fine. Whew!

Still, why is it that packaging has to be done only for the manufacturer's (or store's) convenience at the expense of the one who's making the whole machine run by throwing in the money? That would be us, the customers. Fruit of the Loom managed it with their socks (the white ones), which were not only easy to open but the plastic protected the clothing from dirt at the store (and in shipment). Wilson is by far from the only culprit in this, but how about it, manufacturers: can you make it easier to open packages so we don't end up being Cranky Customers?


Randy Cassingham is the publisher of This is True, the curator of the popular joke site, Jumbo Joke, and is the founder of Cranky Customer.

« Saying Goodbye to Hello Direct | Home | Drain Doctor and the Toilet that Needed a Colonoscopy »


Interesting reading, all these comments. Funny thing about the Fort Knox packaging, it really IS to prevent shoplifting, according to my wife who works in loss prevention. Problem is, that packaging is rendered worthless within a couple seconds by shoplifters. It only prevents opening by legitimate purchasers. Another example of a 'fix' being such only for legitimate consumers, and no more than a momentary inconvenience for the criminal-minded. But at least it APPEARS that something is being done about it.

It's hard for consumers to "speak with our pockets" regarding that hard-shell plastic packaging when so many things are sealed in such packaging. If similar items were packaged differently, there would be no problem. But many of the items we purchase seem to come in that stiff plastic so tightly fused closed that scissors won't do the job, sharp kitchen knives won't do the job, and brute force won't do the job.

I'm reminded of the Pixar short included on the "Finding Nemo" video in which the snow-globe snowman tries a blowtorch and a jackhammer to get out of his snow globe to play with the mermaids.

I recently bought a new AC adapter for my laptop and found myself slicing roughly through the stuff and enlisting my husband's brute force to wriggle the stuff out of the packaging. It's a good thing it was compatible, because if it hadn't been, I know perfectly well the store would have refused to take it back because ... I'd had to shred the packaging.

I'm so glad our kids are getting a bit older now ... cash works just great and is easy to open.

As a student of Packaging Science (yes, that is a real major, folks), I've found myself learning many of the reasons for seemingly useless and/or inconsiderate packaging. One of the problems of many manufacturers (that they are working on) is that they do not have a department devoted to packaging. Engineering, finance, marketing, and management employees have to battle about so many aspects of the product that packaging it often falls to the wayside. Focus groups to test packages are still rare from what I know of, which is unfortunate.

Luckily the program at my school and others is growing, meaning more packaging professionals, leading to better packages for you. Let me try clearing up some of the common misconceptions that I've learned about in the past two years.

Overpackaging: even with all of the current safety measures in place, about 10% of all products break en route to the retailer. Shipping and storing creates these damages. If people were less rushed to deliver/receive these products, handlers and truck drivers could afford to be more careful.

Twist-tie mania: presentation is everything with toys. It makes kids want. It lets parents see exactly what they are buying.

Impenetrable plastics: some manufacturers use perforated thermoforms to make it easier to open. Many don't, probably because they can't afford to. The reason they exist in the first place is theft. Teensy memory cards would be easier to pocket if they weren't in humongo packages that were impossible to rip through. As technology gets smaller and more valuable, theft is an important factor in design.

Really, the best way of changing this is going to the source. Speak with your pockets. It is a consumer driven market. Let people know what's going on, so they can fix it (or explain why it must be as it is).

Post a comment

Read this before posting a comment! Comments are of course the opinion of the poster. All comments must be approved by the site owner before they appear. Only interesting, pertinent comments that have to do with the entry will be approved, and all comments may be edited for brevity, flow, or grammar. Read the existing comments before posting your own to ensure you're not saying something that's already been covered. See this page for more info.

Last, don't waste your time (or ours) commenting on the ads. We know that the context-sensitive ads are often shilling for the very companies we're ranting at, so we don't consider it "ironic"; it's simply how the ad systems work, and "Hey! Look at that!" comments aren't interesting, they're boring. Thanks.