Jeff Bezos: You owe me one.
Friday, Dec 26, 2003
I'm about to make Amazon a whole lot of money.

As much as I like movies and CDs, the single worst part of the user experience of buying a CD or DVD, or being gifted with same, is the initial user experience: the packaging. Today I'll bypass my tirade about how CD jewel cases are the worst storage device since the mousetrap, and use the copy of Pirates of the Caribbean DVD I got from my mom, as an example.

First, the good. Amazon gets it part-way right. Unlike Costco, Target, or any number of dirtworld retailers, Amazon has done the consumer a favor and nixed the exterior cardboard packaging that serves only to make a DVD case the same height as a CD jewel case trapped within its in-store protective theft-deterrent plastic prison. (must resist CD tirade...) I would credit Amazon's customer-oriented approach here, except that clearly this is a deal Amazon hammered out with the manufacturers for their own sake. When you're selling in volume, volume counts, and the dead air and dead weight of the too-tall cardboard boxes weigh heavy on razor-thin margins.

No, my beef is with the stupid sticky plastic labels designed to prevent us from opening the DVD 'keepsake case'. "SECURITY DEVICE ENCLOSED" scream labels on three sides, adhered securely along the three edges of the case to ensure that we not only know that there is, indeed, a security device enclosed, but that we'll have to sit down and have a tete-a-tete with a tooth or nail before we can break in to the case and see it. In truth, RF-tag or no, the labels themselves are security devices because they inhibit would-be five-fingered fraudsters from easily opening cases in the store and making with the discs, sans-case.

Of course, Amazon's DVDs and CDs never see the inside of a store and now, well into paragraph five, we get to the point: Inventory control (err, shoplifting-prevention) is an important part of the K-mart experience, but Amazon? What kind of security are we talking about? Is there a swordbreaker or small shield in the box, to help keep me safe from the movie? What kind of security device does Amazon need to cozy in next to my DVD, so volitile that it has to be sealed inside this sanctum by a snap-case with three security labels (one with a hologram) and a skein of plastic-wrap to ensure the pristine state?

"SECURITY DEVICE ENCLOSED" rings about as false on an e-commerce customer's ears as does 'Provided by the Management for Your Protection' does on a toilet-seat cover dispener. "What Management? Protection from what? Umm. thank you?" I can almost picture a senior VP coming in to the bathroom stall after working hours to replenish the supply, smug in the knowledge of a rectally-protected workforce.

This kind of anal-retentive mindset can be recycled when trying to contemplate exactly how forcing you to remove stickers from a plastic case is actually the consumer doing their part in preventing crime as if to say, "if this sticker is missing, then the terrorists have already won."

Is there a posterior ulterior motive at work? Within the "flagship sticker"'s hologram, is there a microscopic EULA binding my soul to the merchandising and marketing goals of the movie therein and all possible forthcoming sequels?

Jeff, as your company inches toward its first profitable quarter while struggling to differentiate itself from bricks and mortar book warehouses, how 'bout if you wield your mighty influence to change the small things that everyone will thank you for. Get rid of the 'peel here to reveal next protective device' stickers.

Picture next year's gift-giving season when Timmy unwraps the DVD Star Wars 6-pack and in place of eighteen prophylactic devices standing between him and his entertainment, he sees a small sticker that says, 'No security device needed. Thanks for buying from Amazon!'

You're trying to lead the world in a marketplace of fungible products. Grab on to any differentiator you can, especially the ones that make your customers' lives easier.

Oh, and while you're at it, see what you can do about those big red FBI warnings. Really, in today's world aren't there more important ways for the FBI to instill fear in the people?


Kevin Fox

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Hi, I'm Kevin Fox.
I've been blogging at since 1998.
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