SIOC Packaging (Ships In Own Container) and Frustration Free Packaging for Transformers

Discussion in 'Transformers Toy Discussion' started by Goldbolt, Aug 15, 2020.

  1. Goldbolt

    Goldbolt Well-Known Member

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    Edit: I'm not going to rewrite this original post but the photos from Zuckuss change some of the thought process so please read down below. I love the discussion this is generating, we'll get to the bottom of this.

    I am an engineer that has worked in the packaging industry designing and testing shipping containers for pharmaceutical and consumer products companies for twenty years and have my name on three patents for packaging related technologies. I almost never make new threads here and didn't want this to get buried in the Amazon or Walmart threads. I've been seeing several people showing their recent toy shipments annoyed that they were shipped without an outer shipping box having the label directly applied to the toy package. I’m seeing this causing frustration and anxiety and think I can help explain what’s going on. Please keep in mind that this is written as a fellow collector from the perspective of someone who has worked for a packaging company designing packages, not someone with inside info from Hasbro. Also, apologies for how long it got as I wrote it, these are a complex ideas and I really want the implications for our community to be understood.

    Amazon put out standards in recent years for what they call SIOC (Ships In Own Container) packaging. The goal of this initiative was to reduce waste of physical supplies (boxes, tape, mailer envelops, etc) and waste of labor in the shipping warehouse and freight costs. Whenever we buy a toy from them that ships in solo in an overpack box, they have to pay someone to get the toy from its inventory location, select and retrieve an appropriate box, place the toy in it, tape it, process the shipping label and then place it into the logistics system. (I don’t run a logistics team or work for Amazon, Wal-Mart, Target, etc so some of the process details may be a bit off.) With SIOC packaging the steps are reduced to retrieving the toy and putting the sticker on it and sending it out. They save $0.10 to $1.00 on a box and their warehouse worker does less things to send it out. The time saved also means more shipments going out per hour per warehouse worker. This is a huge cost savings over thousands and thousands of shipments.

    The shipments are also much more efficient for the shipping service as the size of the package is reduced to the smallest size possible. How many times have any of us received a usb stick in a giant box and thought, “there has to be a better way of doing this?”. Well SIOC packages are what were come up with. Putting the mailing label on the box directly removes all that wasted volume from the freight system. If you are Amazon and run your own freight company it means each van can hold more shipments, another savings over the savings of the packing materials and labor.

    When I saw the new packaging for figures like Jetfire, Sky Lynx and the Amazon Conheads I knew immediately that this was why they had gone to that packaging style. Quoting from this website (note, I do not work for this company, it was just the one I found the correct info on the quickest).

    “Packaging requirements for Amazon’s SIOC program are as followed: Packaging must be a rigid six-sided shape box. The package must be free from windows or cutouts. Some small access holes or hand holes are acceptable.”

    These new packages are preciously that, windowless six sided boxes with a higher grade cardboard than on the mass retail releases that we’re used to at brick and mortar stores. If you want to deep dive into it, that same website has a full listing of the testing required for one of these packages here.

    I have personally run hundreds of tests of this sort for different kinds of packages. It calls for a series of drops and vibration sequences and some impact tests. The packages I’m referring to would 100% pass all of these tests with flying colors, I am certain of it. This is the part that will be hard for us to swallow as a community. The pass/fail requirements for these tests would not care if the outer package is damaged as long as the product inside is unbroken and the package didn’t fail catastrophically (for example, exploding and spilling the contents everywhere, which believe me, will happen if you drop a heavy thing in a fragile box). The outer box having dented corners, scuffs, tears, etc would still be considered a pass and 100% acceptable in this paradigm.

    The big difference is in how we collectors think about the toy packaging vs this methodology. We collectors think of the "product we are buying" being the complete item including the outer container with the graphics on it, whereas this only considers the "product" to be the toy inside that outer container. I expect looking at various pictures of shipments without an overpack carton that the toy inside the box wasn’t damaged even though the box looked beaten up and had non-removable stickers ruining the graphics on it. This is considered acceptable and normal even if we do not agree it is intentional in how the test requirements were designed.

    Hasbro also has committed to phasing out plastic packaging as has been reported on TFW in the past. (Press release) These new windowless packages are definitely a step in that direction too. Hasbro also did an initiative on what they refer to as "frustration free" packaging and have a great video here on Amazon's website. The package that they show there also conforms to the SIOC concept as well. I watched that video and thought "damn that package is ugly but damn is it also well designed and efficient if you only care about the doll inside." I recently received Omega Supreme from BBTS and he is in a very similar package from that doll package except for the full color printing. The package for Scorponok is also the same style.

    As a backer of Unicron I have to say I was very concerned when I saw the package for him was a brown multi-walled corrugated shipping box with minimal graphics. The design of it looks completely like it is intended to be the shipping container only and not a display piece. Conversely, the sail barge had a full color printed box and was put into another box for shipping that I imagine many people discarded while keeping the printed one. I might be being alarmist here but I will be dreading receiving that box with a label stuck directly on it until the day it arrives.

    That said, I think we as a community need to either wrap our minds around this being the new normal or start pushing Hasbro on the topic. I don’t personally feel like we should be fighting this change (Unicron notwithstanding as he is $600). This will just result in better prices for us in the long run and also have an enormous environmental impact from using less cardboard and packing shipping trucks more efficiently saving on fossil fuel and human labor. With Amazon and other major retailers pushing these package design paradigms, this will happen to some extent for almost everything we buy online as the years continue. The question we all need to ask ourselves is whether all these positives are outweighed by our desire to have a perfect package for our toys.
     
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2020
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  2. heltskelt

    heltskelt Well-Known Member

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    Thank you for your insight. Don’t worry about the length; it is well worth reading.
     
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  3. Black Convoy

    Black Convoy Proudly Peruvian Transfan Moderator News Staff

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    One of the best information threads these days. Thanks a lot.
     
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  4. Laser_Optimus

    Laser_Optimus I can do this all day! TFW2005 Supporter

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    Appreciated this. It was well worth the read and puts things into perspective. My only worry about stuff like this isn't if the box gets damaged though so much as it could cause an increase in stolen merchandise. I'm usually home to get my stuff immediately, but if you're not a package that's contents are obvious is much more tempting than one that isn't.
     
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  5. Nevermore

    Nevermore It's self-perpetuating a parahumanoidarianised!

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    I work for Amazon and can shed some insight on how exactly SIOC versus overwrap works.

    Each product is assigned a standardized packaging size in our system. In an ideal situation, that would always be the most appropriate packaging size, but sometimes a human error occurs, and the Amazon worker is instructed to place a tiny item in a giant box, or a huge item in a packaging that is way too small. Depending on the facility, the management and the intelligence of the employee and their amount of give a damn, there might be different guidelines for how to deal with those inappropriate packaging dimensions (ignoring the system's recommendation, following the system's recommendation regardless, calling a manager).

    In any regard, all items that are going to be shipped to customers are processed the same way. The only difference is whether they are flagged as having to be placed inside an Amazon box, or are supposed to ship as "SIOC" or "ownbox". In that situation, the "prepare the box, place the item inside, add some padding and then tape the box shut" steps are omitted, but the rest of the process before and after remains the same. At times when we are receiving a large volume of orders for items that are flagged as "SIOC", there might even be workers assigned to separate SIOC workstations, where their job is to process nothing but those items, so the rest of the packers can concentrate on items that have to be put inside boxes.

    Now, again, sometimes someone messes up and we end up with items that are definitely not suitable for shipping as SIOC. Sometimes a pedantic manager insists on "DO AS YOUR COMPUTER SCREEN TELLS YOU", other times the employee just thinks "I'm not getting paid for using my brain, so I just do as my computer screen tells me, and if this stupid item gets damaged in transit, it's someone else's fault". Personally, I frequently ignore the instructions on my screen when I think an item is not suitable for SIOC shipping (one of the most common offenders are toys with see-through plastic windows), or I ask my manager for a second opinion. Sometimes we also have silly situations where the item (inside its regular product packaging) is already inside an outer manufacturer's packaging (which means it should be perfectly fine to ship as SIOC), and the computer screen tells us to put that one inside an Amazon box regardless.

    And then you have situations where the computer screen explicitly tells the worker to put the item inside a box, and the worker thinks "this can ship as SIOC", which is officially against the rules. Even worse, sometimes items are explicitly supposed to be shipped as "overwrap" because the customer insists on extra packaging to prevent the item from getting damaged in transit, and then the worker thinks "but we shipped all the other ones as SIOC, this is stupid, to hell with this".
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2020
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  6. Zuckuss

    Zuckuss Gand Findsman

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    Very informative thread, glad we have some experts in the forums. I’m an opener so the box condition doesn’t bother me too much, but as Laser_Optimus stated, theft could be an issue (assuming most people are as rabid transformer collectors as we are!).
     
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  7. Maximus Danz

    Maximus Danz Smokie's #1 Guy

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    Thanks for the info! It is quite interesting to read from the perspective of professionals.
     
  8. StrifeZ

    StrifeZ Well-Known Member

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    This is an excellent, excellent thread.
     
  9. The13Primes

    The13Primes hot shot fanatic

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    This is rather interesting. Never thought there would be so much technicality to packaging things to ship
     
  10. artiepants

    artiepants Transformers '84!!!

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    Cool post @Goldbolt - I do a lot of packaging work on the graphics side for a certain electronic entertainment provider, and have certainly had to make adjustments to things based on the type of work folks in your area of expertise do, but we don’t get to interact with them at all, so cool to hear directly from someone with your expertise!
     
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  11. Nevermore

    Nevermore It's self-perpetuating a parahumanoidarianised!

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    Amazon has really standardized the process to the point where (assuming there is no problem with the item or the equiment) it takes between 20 and 60 seconds to pack an item, depending on the size of the box and the amount of padding material. Each box format has its default location, all the materials have their default location, it all becomes a matter of repeating the same steps over and over again, it's all very efficient. The downside is that the management uses the system's records of processed items to evaluate the performance rate of individual employees. Depending on your country's labor laws, the employee's status (permanent versus seasonal) and their overall attitude and personality, that can amount to a lot of pressure to be a super-fast high performer all the time, while for some others, it just means finding all sorts of ways to cheat the system, which, again, can mean shipping items as SIOC that are not meant to be shipped that way because it's better for their performance.

    Here's a video from a German Amazon warehouse that showcases the various steps in processing an item. The packing process begins at 5:36, and is shown more or less in real time. Obviously, it's in German.
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2020
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  12. iacon45

    iacon45 Missing: One Custom Title

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    Definitely want to thank all involved with the information. When I first saw the coneheads being shipped with just the label, I was not very happy but after reading all the information in this thread, I can definitely see where it makes sense and I'm not so mad about it now because I can see the point of why they do it. It also makes sense how most Amazon exclusives have been in windowless boxes where exclusives elsewhere still have the window (excluding Titan and Commander classes).

    My only counterpoint is the fact they are slapping the labels directly on the box where anybody can see what is being sent as it makes its way through the system and, if no one is home, sitting on the porch. Most of the Amazon windowless exclusives I have gotten have had outer slip cover boxes. I can now understand why they don't use extra shipping boxes, but I wish they could at least keep those slip cover boxes intact. It does a bit better covering the product (even through there is a product description), but for those that like to keep the box, it keeps the label off the artwork and possibly damaging it when removed. I've seen reports with the coneheads where some have shipped on the shipping box where others have not.
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2020
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  13. Windsweeper II

    Windsweeper II Banned

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    I applaud the new plain packaging.
    Modern packaging art designs have been ugly anyway.
    We all need to become much more ecologic and reduce waste at the source.
    Packaging doesn't need to look good when we buy online at an increasing rate. It just needs to protect the product.
     
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  14. Dr Breakstuff PhD

    Dr Breakstuff PhD Well-Known Member

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    I used to work in retail packaging too, and I have to say, I am totally in favor of simpler boxes.

    One, because I care about the toy inside, not the box. But the other is that decent packaging really runs up the cost to produce an item. Interior tray? That's an upcharge. Four-color printing? That's an upcharge. See-through window, nonstandard box design, flap, gloss/foil coating on artwork? It all adds up. And, yeah, if you're on the outside, adding an extra fifty cents or dollar to cost of goods sold (COGS) may not seem like much, but in a lot of industries, it really is.

    I tend to look at it this way: Each figure is going to be run as a separate project. That project is going to have a target total COGS from raw materials to packaged and ready for distribution. Any money spent on packaging is money not spent elsewhere. I think it's why we tend to get such ultra-premium decos on the Generations Selects. Little to no tooling cost and simple one-color packaging means that the project has more money to spend elsewhere. Can't go as far as one or even two-color at retail, of course, but a simpler box means potentially more plastic in the figure or more paint on that plastic.
     
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  15. Goldbolt

    Goldbolt Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for chiming in @Nevermore with your knowledge as an Amazon employee. That is a great video showing the packing process. I've never been to one of their fulfillment centers but that is pretty much how I pictured it in my mind having been to many similar places. I'm not sure if you are able to look it up, nor if you are allowed to share such information, but I'd love to know if the coneheads are flagged SIOC in the Amazon system. As a "fun" update, I received my Coneheads this morning from Amazon shipped SIOC. The box doesn't look great but the toys are perfect as intended.

    Also thanks to everyone for your positive words, I was very nervous writing this up but really wanted to share my understanding of what's going on here. Once you see the requirements for SIOC and Frustration Free, the choices that Hasbro has been making of late make a lot of sense. The Selects packaging is another example of this where they've gone to windowless corrugated boxes. Those packages also have skipped on the full color graphics as "shelf presence" isn't really a factor since they seldom show up at mass retail. The full color printing is much more about getting someone's attention on a shelf and promoting buying it than any physical reason. Just imagine going into Target and the TF aisle had the selects packaging style fill the shelves. That clearly wouldn't work either from the perspective of attracting attention from a casual buyer and would also be a nightmare for us to sort through looking for that one elusive figure. I love the current deluxe packages with the angled side as it makes it very easy to see which figure is which in a long line on a peg.

    I don't think people see the Selects boxes shipped SIOC as much due to Pulse being the primary vendor and them correctly knowing that their customers would be very annoyed if they were doing that, even though the packaging was designed to be compliant. Having a much lower number of shipments going out, the overall savings going this route are way lower for them. The same goes for collector oriented stores (like those that advertise on TFW) as our goodwill and expectation of a pristine package outweighs the savings from shipping this way. When I received Omega Supreme from BBTS last week he was in an overpack with bubblewrap fully surrounding him even though they could have just slapped a label on the box and sent it.

    The packaging for the larger Cyberverse figures and the Rescue Bots where they've gone to "incomplete" boxes where the toy isn't fully contained is also part of the frustration free and sustainability initiatives. Those packages use less paperboard which has an environmental and cost benefit but do not comply with SIOC since they don't have all six sides. They are very easy to remove the toy from and are very eye catching. Since the toy isn't very fragile, the main goal of that package is to get a child to see it and go "want that" then not annoy the parent when need to unbox it for the child to play with it in the car.

    Once you see the goals of these initiatives it becomes hard to not look at every item and try to guess why the choices were made. Our community is very good at predicting things like "they announced a conehead two pack, thrust must be releasing someplace else". This is really the same sort of thing, you can see where we're heading based on where we are now. Keep in mind the development cycle for the figures is in the two to three year range so the changes we're seeing with these recent figures will become the norm over time. You always start with trying out one or two designs and see if they work before applying the philosophy to the entire line. Omega and Jetfire last year seemed like the test case to me and seeing more figures packaged the same way this year has born that out.
     
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  16. Nevermore

    Nevermore It's self-perpetuating a parahumanoidarianised!

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    I can tell that I am not in a position where I can find out what packing method specific products are flagged as unless I am processing them directly.
     
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  17. Zuckuss

    Zuckuss Gand Findsman

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    Received these guys like this today. It seems that the “SIOC” problem is on Amazon’s end?
     

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  18. Goldbolt

    Goldbolt Well-Known Member

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    Well now this is really interesting. I seem to have not given Hasbro enough credit here. So while the inner package is compliant they actually sent them to Amazon in an overwrap carton? The carton even says SIOC on the outside. So then the Amazon employee opened the carton, took out the toy and slapped the label on it to ship? Unless this was a running change (as in the first shipments didn't include this carton) then this is a big failure on the communication side between Hasbro's packaging engineers and the Amazon warehouse worker. I've been in situations like that myself where you go to great effort to design and test a shipping container system then the person at the distribution center misunderstands or wasn't properly trained then packs it incorrectly causing a failure. I imagine most figures Hasbro sends them are in multi-case packs so it would make sense for the packing person to open the case to remove the toy. But in this case they would see SIOC flagged in the system just ship it that way by putting a label on the inner carton not realizing or caring that the SIOC configuration was supposed to include the outerwrap they removed it from.

    So if this is what is happening then I take back what I said above, we should be complaining about this. I received my copy of the coneheads with the label slapped right on top of Ramjet's artwork. But if in the $60 I paid for it there was an outerwrap carton then I'm pretty unhappy about it. When I was writing the original post something on my mind was Hasbro adding an overwrap would be a solution to this problem but that does add cost, even if its just $0.10 that could be another part or paint app.

    I'm curious if others have received it packed like this more recently. Maybe it was just a problem with the early shipments and has been corrected already. That won't stop future toy packages from going through the same learning process unless Hasbro and Amazon fix their communication and training issue.
     
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  19. SoundwaveSuperior

    SoundwaveSuperior "The Scourge of the Sky"

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    Yeah, all Amazon exclusives are sent to Amazon from Hasbro in one of those overwrap boxes, and it's been common for previous Amazon exclusives to be shipped in them. Not sure what happened this time.
     
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  20. fujishig

    fujishig Well-Known Member

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    I do wonder if that was a running change, though (the cardboard overwrap). Seems like it would be a huge waste of time to have a worker open all these boxes before shelving/shipping them, and how would they know to do that? It's even labeled SIOC so it's not like someone would mistakenly think there are multiples in the box.