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May 22, 2006

Damn the Clamshell

Glad to see someone taking on the big issues. Wired has an article today on clamshell (or Oyster) packaging -- those hellish sheets of thick, soldered-together plastic that entomb all manner of electronics and make extraction a project requiring enough sharp pieces of metal to fill a medieval armory. The little buggers are so irritating that Consumer Reports named an award after them, the Oyster Awards, given to the most difficult to open products.

If everyone hates the stuff, why is it used? Well, retailers, apparently, love the packaging style: it cuts down on in-store theft, reduces damage during shipping, and allows for easy visibility of the internal product. But the clamshells are so tricky to open that a fair number of folks slice themselves while trying to cut into the buggers. Most just get a quick gash, but according to ER doctors, a fair number rip through tendons and nerves, requiring orthopedic surgery. And that's to say nothing of increased cardiovascular disease and domestic tensions brought on by the stress of trying to open your AV cables. Retailers, however, are unrepentant. John Zittrauer, a spokesperson for Best Buy, admits that clamshells "are a lot of times a pain to get open. But it's a tough line to walk to make things not easily accessible for theft protection before purchase and easy to open after purchase."

Think a boycott would work?

May 22, 2006 | Permalink


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» You know that nasty, thick plastic packaging? from Pound of Cure
Ezra Klein has a nice little piece on the evil clam shell packaging and, believe it or not, associated health hazards, or so Wired says. [Read More]

Tracked on May 22, 2006 2:19:30 PM


A small saw sometimes works.

Posted by: karen | May 22, 2006 1:25:34 PM

Would a boycott work? Nah. The use is currently to widespread among lots of suppliers, many from outside the US.

Some of those in the ER because of self-inflicted wounds caused by un-openable packaging need to 'get thee to a lawyer' (particularly an experienced class action firm) and sue their asses off. The suppliers don't mind unhappy customers who are unlikely to be repeat buyers. Huge legal fees and damage awards seem like an approprite way to grab them by their private parts. Oh, and don't forget to name Best Buy and whomever in the suit against the makers. Lots of PR on the suit will help lots too.

(My personal approach is a favorite pair of scissors that are kinda dull, which I deploy with very great care.)

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | May 22, 2006 1:28:08 PM

Everytime I am opening one of those things, I am thinking to myself, "Wow, this manufacturer seriously hates it's customers—they really do loathe me."

Posted by: Guav | May 22, 2006 1:34:58 PM

Soooo...once I bought one of those FM transmitters that you plug into the headphone jack of a cd or MP3 player. It, of course, was encased in thick, stiff, incredibly strong plastic.

Got my scissors and cut it right open. Took me about 5 seconds.

However, if I had been paying attention to the back of the package, I would have seen that the wire extended along the back to a much higher level than the front of the packaging.

My biggest mistake, of course, was admitting to my wife what happened. I thought she would pass out from laughing so hard.

Stupid packaging.

Posted by: Stephen | May 22, 2006 1:45:04 PM

I wonder if there is some sort of clamshell opening device one could manufacture. If it worked at all, I bet you could make a killing on the infomercial circuit with it.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | May 22, 2006 1:50:18 PM

It's not surprising that the music industry uses this sort of packaging, since it also handles electronic distribution under the assumption that its customers are thieves. They had to destroy the product in order to save it.

Posted by: KCinDC | May 22, 2006 1:54:17 PM

The fact that the package can't be put back together once opened, thus discouraging returns, is probably also a factor in retailer/maufacturer support for the format.

Opening those damned things is the #1 use for the leatherman-esque mul-t-tool in my glove compartment...

Posted by: FMguru | May 22, 2006 2:09:44 PM

What's the recycle level of oyster packaging? I always throw the carved-up remains in with the plastics, but no idea if I actually should.

Posted by: PapaJijo | May 22, 2006 2:13:49 PM

Not a boycott, but how about a movement to ask (politely) the retailers to open them for us during checkout? Internalize the externality!

Posted by: Xavier Q. Evil | May 22, 2006 2:21:40 PM

There's gotta be a happy medium here. Perhaps a perforated package that you still have to essentially destroy to open, yet is easier to actually destroy. Last time I cut myself on one of these, it was from a sharp edge of the hard plastic, as opposed to the scissors. Those things are brutal.

Posted by: Vladi G | May 22, 2006 2:33:54 PM

A boycott wouldn't work, but a lawsuit would. And no defense lawyer would advise a business in a million years to utilize packaging that is known to cause serious injuries, including loss of fingers.

Posted by: Dilan Esper | May 22, 2006 2:38:03 PM

ezra, boycotts don't work in america. there's always another sucker waiting in line to take whatever they're selling :)

Posted by: almostinfamous | May 22, 2006 2:42:23 PM

OH god thats just what we need.....more lawyers lining their pockets.

seriously people its not that big of a deal. Just be careful and use a sharp knife. You cant tell me that the manufacturer is at fault here.

Now if the plastic was laced with some kind of deadly, cancer causing chemical then by all means sue the manufacturer. But to sue them because some dolt cant open the package without cutting himself is a joke

Posted by: joe blow | May 22, 2006 3:00:46 PM

While the site is pretty cheezy, this: http://www.myopenx.com/home.htm works very well. They are shipped in possibly the worst clamshell packaging with a sticker that says, "This is the last time you are going to have trouble opening a package." No injuries, easy to use, and $5. I can't remeber what blog tipped me off to this, though...

Posted by: Derek | May 22, 2006 3:09:15 PM

I have an employee at the store open the package before I leave.

Posted by: Katherine | May 22, 2006 3:27:50 PM

I agree with the lawsuit proposals. Manufacturers and retailers are deliberately using clamshell packaging to prevent theft, despite knowing that it causes numerous injuries to legitimate users. That is a strong case for punitive damages, and these might be enough to put an end to this nonsense.

Posted by: Firebug | May 22, 2006 3:34:17 PM

"Not a boycott, but how about a movement to ask (politely) the retailers to open them for us during checkout? Internalize the externality!"

Great idea, I will employ it next time. At first, I actually thought I was dumb for not being able to open them more easily, then I noticed that it wasn't me, it was that Satan himself had designed the packaging.

The most irritating thing of all of this is that employees generally account for vastly more shoplifting than customers. Yet they still hide behind that rationale.

Posted by: spike | May 22, 2006 3:49:23 PM

One of the things I liked about my time working at RadioShack was they seemed to make a conscious choice to make their packaging easy to open, at least for store branded products (they didn't have much of a choice for name brand stuff). Of course that also made said products easier to close again and return (which isn't a lot of fun when you work for commission). Near the end of my time there I ended up helping customers open any "adult proof packaging" in store. Whoever designs packages for Sony electronics needs their own circle of hell reserved for them.

Posted by: Nied | May 22, 2006 6:54:16 PM

It isn't just electronics--though I have to buy enough of that shite to have nearly sliced open an artery on more than one occasion--it's also toys and educational games. If you have male offspring, you know what I'm talking about.

I bought a pair of heavy-duty garden scissors expressly for this purpose. End of problem. You cut around 3 of the 4 sides and dump the contents onto the table.

Posted by: litbrit | May 22, 2006 7:55:58 PM

Here's the solution - MeadWestVaco, the company the produces Mead and Five-Star brand products, has created a new, easy to open type of security packaging called Natralock (www.natralock.com). It's made with heat-sealed, tear resistant cardbboard, and a small plastic bubble which maintains visibility while still making theft difficult. This stuff is easy to open with kitchen scissors, and is also biodegradable except for the plastic piece. The trick is to appeal to your retailers to switch to Natralock; many are already abandoning PVC clamshelling anyway.

Posted by: DaveE | Jun 19, 2006 1:38:12 PM

If enough buyers are hurt in attempting to open CLAMSHELLS get a class action going against the responsible manufacturers and sellers. They'll see the light QUICKLY. Get up a list of potential plaintiffs and defendants. OR go to Small Claims Court with you proof of injury, if it's minor.

Posted by: Dave Han | Aug 22, 2007 7:41:14 PM

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