Ever wonder why a logistical paragon like Amazon wastes so much packaging on small items? Here’s the best theory so far.
It happens to every Amazon Prime member at least once in a while: you find a big ol’ Amazon box on your doorstep and crack it open only to find it is filled with 90% brown paper and then a tiny little item inside. The practice seems wasteful, annoying, and seemingly avoidable. Yet it continues to happen on a regular basis.
Everyone has their own theories about wasteful Amazon packaging. Maybe they are picking box sizes to make it easier to load onto the truck. Maybe they are purposefully over-boxing things to meet some kind of bureaucratic quota. Or maybe they only have a standard box size and they can’t get any smaller.
In all my research on the topic, I think the most credible explanation is this:
Amazon occasionally packs items into obviously too big boxes due to data entry errors.
As a commenter on a Gizmodo post explained some years ago, the system will tell an Amazon packer which box to grab automatically when they scan an item. The system pulls from the product description to determine the box size. It’s possible that the seller made a mistake when plugging the product dimensions into the system. For example, they could mistake feet for inches on an iPhone case, or give the unpackaged dimensions of a yoga mat instead of the rolled up shipping dimensions.
When a packer gets a box that’s too big, they can flag it in the system and recommend a smaller box size. This will be reviewed and corrected going forward, but oftentimes, at least one of the items will go out in the incorrect box size. The system relies on humans to correct the error in the system.
This theory was given more credence in a recent Reddit thread. While debunking a claim that big boxes were a result of some UPS conspiracy, user westward_man explained:
Box size is determined by dimensions of the item, not how it’s going to be packed in the truck.
When you get a giant box for a small item, it’s usually because someone [messed] up when they measured the item, e.g., they measured a pack of six instead of the individual item.
Even the source he quoted doesn’t mention the truck Tetris game, which would be really difficult to handle in software. People do the truck packing, and it happens as you get packages going out.
Source: I write software that handles measurements at Amazon.
All this being said, you should know that you can give Amazon feedback about their packaging. Go to amazon.com/packaging and you can tell them if the box was too big, the item wasn’t protected enough, or the item was hard to open.
Do you ever get over-packaged items from Amazon? What’s your theory on why this happens?