Reducing Damage Through Usability

I spent my weekend installing a new central heating system. When I unpacked one of the radiators (the largest one at 1.2m x 0.5m ) it was damaged. Most of the radiators had the odd dent in the grills but could easily bent back in to shape. This one however had been in the wars so it had to go back. A trip to Toolstation later and I was unpacking its replacement. This one was even more damaged than the last! Feeling stupid for not checking it out in the shop; I made another 40 minute round trip.

During this second journey I started thinking about why so many had been damaged and how can you stop things from being damaged in transit. There are 2 main approaches to reducing damage:

  • Make the product physically tougher so it can withstand harder knocks
  • Add more protective packaging

Unfortunately, both of these options increase costs. Making the product tougher also adds to its weight, size, appearance etc. so it might not even be an option in all cases.

So, what about increasing the protection from the packaging? Now, a certain amount of returned products due to damage is to be expected – no matter what you do a certain amount of damage is inevitable. So a manufacturer must carefully trade off the cost of the packaging vs the expected cost of returns at any given level of protection.

My radiator was actually pretty well packaged; covered in bubble wrap; thick corrugated card to protect the ends then plastic corner pieces to protect the corners. So, I wouldn’t think adding more protection would be cost effective (then again I suspect that 2 in 3 radiators being damaged can’t be acceptable either!)

Examining the damage it was obvious that they taken a knock whilst being carried/moved. As I drove along I thought about the struggle it had been to carry and load them in to my car. Then it struck me – the problem isn’t with the radiators or the packaging – it’s a problem with the usability of the package as a whole!

These things are bulky – not desperately heavy; but large – you need 2 people to carry them. The problem is – there’s nothing to get hold of. When packaged they are completely smooth – so you need to get your hands underneath them to carry them properly – and trust me after a few squashed fingers you soon stop that! This leaves you with trying to carry them by gripping the edges. When doing this there is a tendency to drop them as you lose your grip when putting them down. You can just imagine how many get dinked by a delivery driver in a rush to unload dozens of them!

I suspect that if some handles were added to the top and sides of the radiator that the number of returns due to damage would reduce markedly. This could be done cheaply by wrapping some heavy duty tape around the edges of the radiator but leaving some loops of tape unstuck to form some handles. This would make the radiator easier to handle and become less likely to take a knock when being carried.

If you find that your products are getting damaged and your returns rate is unacceptably high; don’t forget to take in to account the period between the factory and the store. Usability doesn’t just relate to the product itself; the whole experience including the packaging are worthy of attention and if a slight change to your packaging reduces returns that goes straight on the bottom line!

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