When I hopped over to Amazon.com today to pick up a copy of Visio, I was surprised to see this holiday-ready announcement: Amazon is working directly with manufacturers such as Fisher-Price to develop "Frustration-Free Packaging." This means no plastic clamshells, no wire ties, no molded plastic holders. Just a few simple recyclable cardboard bits.
I've been waiting for one of the online retailers to make this move. (Yes, it's true: I have an unseemly fascination with supply chain management. Thanks, Professor Whang!) Unfriendly packaging has two primary goals: exposing the product for appealing store merchandising (you can see the Barbie on the shelf), and reducing shrinkage (impossible to get the DVD out of the clamshell so you can slide it in your pocket). As a retailer that sells exclusively online, Amazon doesn't have either of these requirements. Photos of the product supersede photos of the box, and the average Joe can't steal a copy of Batman Begins from Amazon's warehouse shelf.
I'm reminded of how Wal-Mart used its clout to drive electronic inventory systems and just-in-time manufacturing and shipping through its own channel. Now that Amazon has become such a large piece of most consumer product manufacturers' supply chains, it can use its channel clout to drive changes that save money throughout the manufacturer-distributor-retailer ecosystem, enable some positive PR with consumers, and even throw a bone to the environment by reducing waste. Kudos to Amazon for swinging its big stick to benefit all of us.