Thursday, 6 August 2009

Consumer products: footprint matters, packaging matters

It's astonishing how many manufacturers just haven't cottoned on to basic consumer needs for usability and practicality, which mean that minor changes to their product or its packaging could make all the difference between selling it - or not.

Fact: most people don't live in mansions with unlimited space. Even when you're not in Japan, footprint matters.

Hard drives, printers

I have some external hard drives for backup and I only buy ones which are made to stand up vertically. I simply don't have enough room on my desk to lie them down horizontally, and the risk of overheating means I can't stack them one on top of the other.

I just saw a hard drive at a decent price from a good brand that I'd like to buy because one of my hard drives has just packed it in - but I won't, I can't, because it only sits horizontally.

The same goes for all sorts of other gadgets - if the price is about the same, I go for what has the smallest footprint. Not even the most reliable brand that I'd prefer to buy if I could; I just don't have the space to.

Printers too - I don't mind tall, just reduce the footprint!

Clock radios

That's why I haven't got any Pure Digital clock radio like the Chronos (pictured below), even though I am a huge Pure fan for DAB radio (see reviews etc on the Bug, Elan, Oasis, all 3 of which I have. As well as the Highway and Evoke etc).

You can't stand their triangular clock radios up on one edge of the triangle - they only lie flat, and my bedside cabinet just isn't big enough to squeeze something like that in, with all the other stuff I need to have on it.

Face cream etc!

Practicality matters, and not just in gadgets. It matters in other consumer goods too.

Take something as simple as face cream. Packaging can matter there.

I used to buy Nivea. It came with a pump so you could easily dispense some out of the shower.

When my local Boots stopped selling Nivea bottles that had lids with built-in pumps, I tried something else that was sold with a pump (E4), found it was fine, and have stuck with it ever since.

I don't know if Nivea stopped selling their product with those types of bottles, or if it was Boots which decided to stop stocking that type.

Whatever the reason, a small difference in packaging got me to switch product.

Even washing up liquid bottles that are rectangular rather than round are better, so you can turn them sideways to take up less room on your window sill. And I prefer storage containers that are square so you can cram them side by side and use the space better than round ones.

I have a glasses container on my bedside table so I can find my spectacles when I wake up. Guess what? It stands up vertically (like a holder for pens, but smaller). It took me years to find one like that.

I don't know if I'm alone in being influenced by the shapes of containers and how much room something takes up. But it can't hurt manufacturers to take practical issues like that into account, and in these tough economic times, anything that can give that extra edge can help.

And finally, it would also help to have packaging that you can open without being an all in wrestler, and without having to use a very sharp knife (risking damage to the product - as well as your fingers! - in the process).

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