Scott Hanselman

Seriously, Amazon, could you ship things in larger boxes?

September 27, 2007 Comment on this post [36] Posted in Musings
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When I was growing up we were not poor, but we weren't living in the suburbs. We did fine, the folks worked extra jobs and we had a $50 limit (total) for Christmas. That's $50 per child, total. Not a bad rule, actually. We appreciated everything we got.

My dad used to have fun with it by packing things in HUGE boxes. Like seriously huge. He'd pack an GI Joe Action Figure in a Dishwasher Appliance box that was bigger than us, then create a Russian Dolls situation with nested boxes. The house was full of boxes. I think the best one was when he put a kid's digital watch that played Space Invaders into a Refrigerator box. Wrapped in Christmas Paper and everything. Fabulous.

Now Amazon is continuing my Dad's tradition. I'd love to sign up for Amazon Prime, Amazon's pay-once, ship-all-the-time-for-free shipping program, but I won't.

Why? Guilt. Eco-guilt specifically. Over the size of the boxes that stuff comes in when you order from Amazon. The box-to-item ratio is out of control and then I'm left with the box.

I love Amazon, and I love being able to order Lido Cookies from Pepperidge Farms (they aren't carried in my town) at the same store I get DVDs, but when an HD-DVD of 300 comes in a box that my 2 year old is now building a fort out of, I think things are out of control.

What's the smallest thing in the largest box that you've received from Amazon?

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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September 27, 2007 6:27
We ordered 12 settings of Fiestaware. Shipping was free with Amazon Prime, which we thought was awesome until the UPS driver showed up with 48 separate 3'x3'x4' boxes. We actually had a line of boxes from our front door down to the street, piled nine feet high. We currently store the contents of those 1728 cubic feet of boxes in a single 3x4x2 cabinet.

98.61% compression. That's like RARing an IIS log file.

However, I have to disagree with your stance on Amazon Prime -- why not sign up for Prime, and donate your savings to your favorite conservation fund?
September 27, 2007 7:07
You should move to Australia. We must have the minimalist packaging department. All packages I have received are usually very tightly packaged.

Admittedly I usually batch things up – as there is no chance of any free delivery options. Disturbingly books are still 40-50% cheaper than from Australian retail outlets. And with the plummeting US dollar things can only get cheaper !
September 27, 2007 7:36
I think the best I got was a screw from Dell, which came in a box 300mm x 900mm x 150mm. And it was fully packed with foam.

The final insult was the screw was inside an anti-static bag, with a electro-static shock warning sticker closing it.
September 27, 2007 7:37
We ordered 5 of the "Wriststrong" bracelets from Comedy Central (to promote Stephen Colbert's Wrist Safety Awareness) and it came in a box just about as big. 5 rubberband bracelets...huge box...really...
September 27, 2007 8:44
Yes, Amazon ships things in grossly huge boxes. At least corrugated recycles. The real question is, how many of you (like me) just ordered some Lido cookies?
September 27, 2007 8:56
Seriously, Lido is like the one cookie that you can't get anywhere.
September 27, 2007 9:18
Do you have a curbside recycling program where you live? At least the boxes won't end up in a landfill.
September 27, 2007 9:28
To my memory, all of my orders have come in box sizes appropriate for the contents: neither too big nor too small.

Unfortunately, the Amazon Prime program appears to only be available for US addresses. Too bad, because I often end up paying just about as much on shipping / handling as I do on the contents of the purchase.

Tōkyō, Japan
September 27, 2007 9:34
I've had experiences on both ends of the spectrum from Amazon. Most excessive packaging: I got a wall calendar one time that was packaged in just about the same size box pictured in your post. Would have probably shipped fine in a padded envelope, though those tend to get rolled/bent fairly easily. Most efficient packaging: I ordered 2 DVD's one time and the box looked like it had been custom made to fit EXACTLY 2 DVD's. There wasn't even a separate shipping label on the box, just a cutout for the order page inside to show through. I figure a lot of people end up buying 2 DVD's at a time to get Super Saver shipping.

I signed up for Amazon Prime, though I wish it applied to items from other sellers as well. I figure with the amount of time/gas I save by shopping online, the extra recycled cardboard from an oversize box is probably still a net savings.
September 27, 2007 9:57
Cute kid Scott! ;-)
September 27, 2007 11:07
You gotta get Amazon Prime. I signed up for Amazon Prime when it was initially offered thinking I would probably just about break even. As it turns out, I'm ordering more often from Amazon because I'm concerned about the shipping charges racking up or having entire shipments delayed because something is on backorder. If my mom on the other side of the country needs something, she'll call me and I'll look it up on Amazon. "Oh, wow! Amazon has that CD for $8.99. Just a sec... click, click. It'll be on your doorstep the day after tomorrow." When the nieces have a birthday coming up... click, gift wrap please, click. I usually have packages shipped to the office. At least this way I can unpack the contents and give the box to the shipping department for recycling.

Most of the packages I receive from Amazon are in relatively appropriate sized boxes, but I have received the occasional oversized box. Nothing quite as large as the one in the picture, though. The funniest was when I ordered something really small and it came in a large packing box full of peanuts. It was almost an adventure trying to find the item in the box, kinda like "Which of these items isn't quite like the other?" on a grander scale.
September 27, 2007 11:29
In Germany, Amazon(.de) only uses boxes which are close to the size of the sent item. I think, it only occured once, that a huger box was used and I guessed that the small boxes were out. Other shops, especially computer shops, aren't as good as Amazon and send large packets, which are fortunately not filled with foam, but with paper or small bags, that are filled with air.
September 27, 2007 11:35
Is that the box your kid came in? He seems pretty happy to be out :)
September 27, 2007 15:00
That's so true. The disturbing thing is that the package size is constantly growing. I tend to order 3-5 books at a time from Amazon, to cut down on both packaging and shipping costs. A couple of years ago, my books would arrive in a suitable box, but these days, things are just ridiculous. My books now arrive in a sack since the box they put them in is so enormous, the handling people need to haul it.
September 27, 2007 15:59
Being an ecogeek myself, I understand the frustration. But I have to say that for all of the items sent to me from Amazon, they always seem to use a box relative to the size of the item. So aside from unnecessarily breaking up one shipment into multiple packages, they've been pretty minimalist for me.

It's great to see your son building a fort out of that box. Boxes make great toys in the hands of little creative people!

People often forget the other two R's (Reduce and Reuse). Personally, we save most boxes that come in the mail and then use them again later for organizing items in the storage, sending packages to relatives in other cities, etc.
September 27, 2007 16:08
The large boxes seem to be a newer trend, at least for me. In the past, as a few have mentioned, the boxes were relative to what's shipped plus a bit of additional room for the packaging bubbles.

I recently ordered a NAS and an miniSD card. Both shipped from the same Amazon facility, which happens to be in the same state, just east of me, but in two separate boxes--two same-sized boxes. The NAS was almost breaking the seams of the box, the SD card was bouncing around in the box with very little packaging to hold it in place. Heh.

Good luck on the fort^^.

September 27, 2007 17:08
I ordered a Guitar Hero from what was Circuit City's Ebay outlet store. It came nicely boxed in I believe a 4'x4'x1' box with so much Air Bag cushon in it at first I thought I had about 30 yards of spaghetti. Then there at the bottom not cushoned on one side was my used, and working, guitar hero. I use the box now to hold other folded down boxes.
September 27, 2007 17:38
Don't think I've had any boxes that weren't reasonable for the contents from Amazon, and actually the books tend to arrive in excellent condition without all the packing peanuts that some folks use to cushion the shipment. Seems the shrink-wrapped plastic and cardboard insert do the trick nicely.

What ticks me off more than the size of boxes used by companies are the number of folks who won't take the extra minute to break down their box and stick it in the recycling bin at the local collection center, so the bins tend to have boxes in them on a regular basis and end up in the landfill.

Kids sure do grow up fast, Scott. I remember when my boy was about that size. Enjoy the time with him!
September 27, 2007 17:54
Whenever I have ordered from Amazon, the boxes have been perfectly-sized. They were all posted to Australia though, so perhaps shipping costs have something to do with it.
September 27, 2007 18:44
I don't order from Amazon much, but we've gotten some good ones from FreshDirect, an online grocery store. In a typical order we will get:

- 2 boxes of fruit and vegetables packed as tightly as possible (often bruising the fruit)
- 1 plastic bag of frozen stuff
- 1 box of dry stuff (packed tight and very heavy)
- 1 box of refrigerated stuff including a few 8 oz. yogurts (again packed tight)
- 4 boxes containing one 8 oz. yogurt each

I understand that they're being packed by different regions of the warehouse until you get to the refrigerated stuff. They obviously are packing the refrigerated boxes at the same place because there are some yogurts in the refrigerated box, and then one per box after that.

The only explanation I've come up with is that they have some sort of box quota they have to fulfill.
September 27, 2007 19:31
Well it wasn't from amazon, but i bought some Arctic Silver from new egg, which if you have ever gotten it we all know is TINY. Well it came in a box the same size as the one my graphics card was in, and it had been wrapped up in about 8 layers of bubble wrap and was surrounded by packing peanuts.
September 27, 2007 20:32
I agree on the boxes. The box should fit the product.

I like the cardboard box fort idea. You can even buy cool "box rivets" that can be used to create huge cardboard creations.

September 27, 2007 20:33
A couple of years back, I placed a software license order (not from Amazon, from for an enterprise anti-virus application. The smart guys in the shipping department must have decided that the card stock printed license was pretty darn fragile. I can only assume this because of their careful packaging process. These product packing prodigies stuffed the license number laser printed onto a single card stock sheet into a cardboard envelope, sealed the envelope, and then put that in a box large enough to hold a mid-tower case. That box was then stuffed with enough popcorn to occupy a kindergarten classroom. Thankfully, the licensed arrived at my office undamaged.

And I just have to wonder, what would Mark Miller say about all this?

So you paper stuffin, envelope lickin, oversized box packin, popcorn lovin product packer! You sir, are dumber than me!
September 27, 2007 20:52
Someone buy that boy some shoes!
September 27, 2007 20:59
Hey, they sell Lidos here in Nebraska. I love 'em too. They are right between Milano and Chessman. Excuse me while I go eat one a package.
September 27, 2007 21:38
Hm. I'm with Mr. Australia up there. Whenever ships something to me in Canada, the box fits the contents so tightly you'd think the cardboard had been sprayed on. There's clearly some vast and windy divide between the international and domestic shipping departments.
September 27, 2007 23:22

Well, maybe next time you can order several Lido cookies with your next DVD and you won't feel bad if they used the same box size.

So did you make your Amazon Prime decision *after* this DVD purchase or before? Otherwise, why are you still buying from them?

We should be more proactive about issues like this. Contact Amazon and let them *know* you're not happy with them being wasteful. I am sure enough complaints will make them do reconsider their box sizes. This also doesn't make sense economically. It pay more shipping costs with bigger boxes.
September 27, 2007 23:47
Kids love big boxes. Z is probably going crazy with a box that size.
September 29, 2007 1:22
No big box story, but the line about Z building a fort out of the box and seeing his smiling face made me smile from ear to ear.

September 29, 2007 2:12
Find a gardener who wants "weed" boxes, and let it be there problem. One of the ladies at my work always asks me for big boxes when I'm done with them. She says they're the most effective way to kill weeds (and environmentally friendly too; compared to weed-killer). I've never really gotten an oversize shippment, and as someone else said, it's recycleable, even better they're reusable. What's not recycleable though is the "treasure trove" of unwanted ads that usually come with my order, glossy paper isn't recycleable or reusable.
September 29, 2007 15:46
The best I've gotten would have to be a license for a symantec product. A single sheet of paper with the license details on it in a box! It may have even had a couple sealed air bags in there as well.

I've also had the pleasure of receiving numerous other packages which I've wondered what was in the box only to find out that it was something tiny.

Perhaps they have a minimum purchase deal with the packaging companies :)
September 29, 2007 20:58
This is the ratio between the box and the microSD I purchased on newegg, another big packaging offender :-)
October 01, 2007 19:27
A really good one for me was my recent phone upgrade with O2. They sent me a box sized so it would fit through my letterbox, with a note inside saying "Thank you for not ordering a charger with your phone, this has reduced the packaging needed to ship your order, thus helping the environment." (or something to that effect). However, along with that package came a jiffy bag, with another bag inside containing... a phone charger! Way to go, you shaved a couple of inches off a box by sending me two!
October 05, 2007 0:34
I love Amazon Prime. I've been using since it was in a private beta format. It pays for itself at Christmas alone. I must say... I also love the big boxes they use. I reuse them for my own shipping. Well, actually it's the popcorn taht comes with it that comes in VERY handy! That stuff ain't free ya know.

However... yeah, it's kind of insane. Reminds me of that one girl's iPhone bill that came in a BOX.

The smallest item I've gotten in a large box was an SD card in a box over a cubic FOOT in size.
October 06, 2007 1:59
While I am have not noticed the box phenomenon, the worst I have sent to me.. was a refund Check from the phone company for $0.00. It came in an envelope.....

Should I cash it..?
October 16, 2007 2:44
That difference between domestic and international shipments kills me. Public postal service here in [some Caribbean country] is practically non-existent, and most internet stores don't send items here. I have my packages sent to a private courier in the USA, who then brings them over for a fee. As far as Amazon knows, it's a domestic shipment. Of course, the courier fee is based on weight or size, whichever suits them most. Many times I end end paying LOTS more because of the huge boxes. But in the end, it still beats buying cutting-edge gadgets locally, where prices on the latest iPod can easily be more than twice than in the US of A.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.