Amazon's Frustration Free Packaging Still Not Quite Working Out For Electronics

Tom wishes Amazon would use better packaging when it comes to shipping things like hard drives. Their “frustration-free packaging” is meant to save shoppers from dealing with blister packs and unnecessary boxes. For the Western Digital hard drive Tom was trying to buy, it meant bouncing around a half-empty box from the fulfillment facility to his doorstep, where it arrived broken. Twice.

Tom writes:

I bought a WD Caviar Black HDD, 750GB. The screencap of the product page is attached. My experience with these drives is normally very good; they’re quick, inexpensive and reliable. But they’re not exactly forged by demons from cursed, indestructible ore in the bowels of a volcano. HDDs are manufactured on the very edge of reliability, keeping costs and failure rate in careful balance. And even if they were made according to exceptional tolerances, they’d still be sensitive to mechanical shock.

…Which amazon doesn’t seem to understand.

I was annoyed to find this tiny box on my stoop (see other image) and shocked to find the HDD was inside with only a thin layer of bubble wrap and a single airbag to protect it during shipping. There was a second airbag that was flat, and appeared to never have been inflated at all. The drive rattled and moved about freely inside the box, which is too small to protect the drive from all directions anyway, even if it had been packed correctly. And of course it didn’t work when I tested it, no surprise there.

So I RMA’d it, and to Amazon’s credit they were very quick to send me a replacement and a return label. However this is where my praise for Amazon ends.

The replacement drive arrived in exactly the same undersized box, with exactly the same skimpy bubble wrap treatment, and exactly the same single inflated airbag along with one flat one that was untouched. And with exactly the same result, too: a DOA drive which as a bonus, sounded like a table saw when I fired it up.

Somebody hasn’t got a fucking clue how to mail sensitive electronics safely. And since it happened twice exactly the same way, I’m tempted to call this policy and not bad luck. Either way it’s totally unacceptable and needs to be fixed, and quickly.

Unfortunately that isn’t happening either. A brief look around the product reviews shows comments from other buyers having the same problems as far back as a year, maybe longer. There are also dedicated threads in their discussion forums about rubbish packing and damaged product. Western Digital apparently knows about the problem as well, and theoretically discussed proper shipping practices with Amazon. Yet, it continues.

He’s right about it being a long-running issue. Way back in 2007 we posted a complaint from an Amazon customer who received a hard drive in a half-empty box. Amazon replaced the drive in that case, and told the customer that they were looking into the problem at one of their shipping facilities.

Not every comment on the Amazon product page is a complaint about this, of course. I imagine it’s a recurring training issue–some employees don’t quite grasp how to package things like hard drives and need to be taught. Maybe Amazon should hang up posters.

A shopper named Federalist One has had enough and gives this stern advice in the product’s reviews.

REJECT all packages lacking PADDING ON ALL SIX BOX SURFACES meeting or exceeding UPS standards. I have ZERO confidence in electronics received in any other condition. I continue to exchange the item until amazon can be bothered to correctly package it.

I have recently started a habit of calling customer service prior to an order, placing the order, and giving the rep the order number to ENSURE the item is PROPERLY packed in the box.

Our OP Tom says he just decided he’d had enough. “I returned the second drive today and bought it elsewhere.”