Why does Amazon pack small items in huge boxes? This question plagues its customers

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Have you ever received a small item in a huge box from Amazon? You’re not alone. When something the size of, say, a pack of batteries or bottle of Tylenol, lands on your doorstep in a massive box, it’s definitely a head-scratcher. That’s why so many people are asking the question we’ve all been wondering: Why does Amazon ship small items in giant boxes?

Amazon is well aware that its customers are confused about their packaging techniques. There are a couple plausible reasons for their packaging decisions, both having to do with the types of technology the company has used or is currently using. Online investigations from curious customers began a few years ago, well before the actual explanation was known.

Back in 2012, a concerned shopper posed the question on an Amazon forum and wanted an explanation, writing:

“I ordered and received a report cover…. a report cover! and it came in a big huge box with lots of bubble wrap….. why? What’s the point. It could have easily just slipped inside the mailbox, but instead it was a box shipped via UPS…. somebody explain.”

Amazon photo
Getty Images | Sean Gallup

No official response came from Amazon at the time. However, another poster on the forum suggested an interesting (and pretty plausible theory):

“I would guess it’s because the shipper sells a lot of different products, and uses the same packaging materials and procedures for all of them. A cardboard box and some bubble wrap don’t add appreciably to the shipping weight, and if purchased in large quantities may be more cost-effective than stocking a range of box sizes and mailer types. And it may be easier to train employees to package everything the same way than to give them the discretion of deciding what’s fragile and what’s not.”

Since then, plenty of customers have voiced their frustrations online regarding with this seemingly-wasteful packaging method. Some have even posted videos about their experiences with receiving ridiculously large Amazon packages for small items:

Playing ‘Tetris’ With Boxes

As customers’ frustration increasingly intensified, in 2016 Amazon finally offered an explanation for customers: Small items come in large box because of the packing software the company is using. This software determines how many packages can fit on a truck and will put items into larger boxes, if need be, to keep them from shifting in transit.

This tweet, which appears to have been sourced from a Reddit thread about consumption, does a good job of summing it up:

Simply put, Amazon’s software is “playing automated Tetris with the packages.” Since a computer program determines which size boxes to use to keep things packed snugly in the delivery truck, it will always err on the side of caution and choose a box that is plenty big enough for the product. Amazon claims this is ultimately better for ensuring products arrive without damage.

Nicola Sweeney, the general manager at Amazon’s Swansea warehouse in the UK, explains in the video below if the product is “too flush” against the box, then it’s at risk of being damaged during delivery. This clip from a BBC show “Hugh’s War on Waste” demonstrates the packaging process in action:

Amazon Introduces Padded Mailers

However, this process is changing. According to a Wall Street Journal report last year, Amazon has added machines that create padded mailers to be used for smaller items in an effort to respond to customers’ complaints about waste.

Additionally, the company began using a new computer system called Box on Demand in 2016, which optimizes the correct size box to use. This new system will hopefully do a better job of ensuring items get packaged in cardboard boxes that better suit their dimensions.

Considering how Amazon is well on its way to dominating the retail industry, it going to have to adapt to ensure its customers are pleased. So, don’t be surprised if its packaging solutions begin to make a whole lot more sense in the future!