Penetrating the Packaging Fine Print
This past week our gas-powered string trimmer gave its final surrender to six years of hard use. I had vowed to replace my veteran lawn mower with a lawn service when it died, but the mower is still going strong at age 13. A new string trimmer can be had for $75 (the cost of 1.5 lawn service fees) so I decided to enlist a replacement.
Who knew that a shopping trip for a lawn care accessory would reinforce the importance of really studying what you are buying, including the packaging fine print?
My concern was that the packaging had been updated to correspond to a recent “updating” of the product itself, by adding a feature or subtracting a feature. I obviously wanted the version – if there was one – that had the best features.
I called over a nearby sales person, pointed out the different packaging, and asked him if there was something different about the products inside. He quickly looked at the boxes and SKU tags then assured me that the products were identical. He clearly did not share my level of curiosity about the issue. Before shrugging my shoulders and walking off with a randomly selected box, I decided to take one last look at the packaging fine print.
Then I found the big clue.
The weight of the product in one box was listed at 8.2 pounds. In the slightly different box, the weight was listed as 7.9 pounds. This trimmer was advertised by Home Depot as being the lightest gas-powered trimmer on the market. Thus, I knew that the product weight was an important product specification. The engineer in me was telling me that there had to be something different about the products inside to account for the differences in weight.
I was about to ask the sales person if I could remove the trimmers from the boxes to look at them, when I noticed something else on the package. Each box had an image of a trimmer. Near the trim head were very faint images of the string-ends that do the cutting. What was that, I thought? Did the image on one box show two strings while the image on the other had only one? It was hard to tell.
If you have ever used a string trimmer, you would know that having single vs. dual cutting strings is an important feature.
Back to the fine print. I found some text that referred to the cutting head. There were some cute marketing phrases used but in the smaller print, one box used the word “dual.” The other did not. Guess which box that was? The box that stated a lower weight.
Now I knew. The manufacturer had apparently either lowered its cost on this model by downscaling to a single-string cutting head or had decided to improve its marketability by adding a dual-string cutting head. I didn’t know which because the boxes were not dated. All I knew is that the manufacturer and Home Depot were trying to sell them as the same product, which from a performance and feature aspect, they clearly were not. I looked for the sales person to give him a little free education about his product but he was nowhere to be found.
What I experienced at Home Depot is analogous to what goes on at grocery stores constantly. The packages look the same but the weight of the food inside is slightly reduced in a way that the sellers hope the buyers won’t notice. Ice cream, cereal, canned tuna, you name it – it’s an epidemic of food sellers seeing what they can get away with.
Now I am wondering how often this happens in other selling environments, like the big box retailers. Do we need to scrutinize the packaging on everything we purchase, assuming that somebody is trying to slip something by us?
Have any of you had an experience like mine?