Big Packages with Small Products Inside Stir Consumers to Act

Consumers are hitting back over products that may fool the eye.

October 13, 2014, 3:24 AM
PHOTO: Big package for small product? This illustration shows the fill line for a popular drug store product.
Big package for small product? This illustration shows the fill line for a popular drug store product.

— -- I always try to consider a glass half full rather than half empty. I’m a positive person. But it’s easy to have negative feelings about retail product packages that are only half full. Or is that half empty? I’m not the only one unsure what to call it. Consumers have alternately used the terms “over-packaging,” “deceptive packaging” or “slack fill” to describe huge bottles with only a few vitamins inside or over-sized cardboard boxes camouflaging tiny products.

And now--no matter what you call it--some authorities are listening. Four California counties took on retailing giant CVS, charging that some of the company’s packaging misled consumers by making products look bigger than they actually were. The Fresno ABC affiliate first uncovered the court case. CVS settled with the counties, agreeing to pay $225,000 in fines and redesign some of its packaging but did not admit fault.

CVS told KFSN, "CVS/pharmacy is committed to ensuring that its product packaging is sufficient in size to accommodate pertinent information about the product. CVS Brand products, including packaging, are generally designed to be similar to the national brand equivalents. While manufacturers generally choose the container size, CVS/pharmacy has agreed to redesign the packaging of certain CVS Brand items."

The settlement covers the packaging of a handful of wrinkle creams, acne treatments and hair serums. Previously the website had reported on CVS brand vitamin bottles it said were larger than necessary. Using a flash light, Consumer World founder Edgar Dworsky says he was able to see that the bottles were less than a third full. He then bought and opened a bottle to verify. The image at the top of this story is an illustration Dworsky created to show his findings.

In CVS’s defense, “everybody’s doing it.” The drugstore chain is hardly alone. Overdone packaging has long been a pet peeve of mine. It’s both a pocketbook issue and an environmental issue. This visual trick can make you think you’re getting more for your money than you actually are. And if you’re interested in being “green,” then the fewer natural resources we use to manufacture packaging the better.

If over-sized packaging containing under-sized products bothers you, take the time to mention it to store managers or, better yet, in this Internet era, find the customer feedback address for the manufacturer or retailer and fire off an email to them. When consumers stop responding to big packages and start demanding small ones, then things will change.

Opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author.

Elisabeth Leamy is a 20-year consumer advocate for programs including "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show." She is the author of “Save BIG” and “The Savvy Consumer.” Elisabeth is also a professional speaker, delivering talks nationwide on saving money, media relations and career success. Elisabeth receives her best story tips from readers, so please connect with her via Facebook, Twitter or her website to share your ideas.

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