Thursday, October 10, 2013

What's in a Box?


A few days ago, David Driscoll posted an article on his K&L blog about the problems he runs into with customers who complain not about the whiskey that K&L shipped to them but about the box.  I thought it was an amusing post, but apparently, some folks on Twitter and the StraightBourbon forum took offense that Driscoll would treat whiskey boxes so irreverently.

For my part, I don't care about whiskey boxes.  I buy whiskey to drink not to display or resell.  I do use the boxes for storage (extra storage is always helpful in earthquake country), but once I'm done with a whiskey, the bottle, box and anything else goes straight to the trash.  Most of them are just flimsy cardboard or cheap metal tins anyway (that are inevitably dented by me if they aren't already dented when I get them - which they often are). 

It actually upsets me when the boxes (and bottles) are too nice.  It means that the company spent significant money, money that is passed onto the consumer, on something that's going in my trash bin.  A terrible example of this was the Old Rip Van Winkle 23 year old  decanter of a few years ago which came in a giant wooden cube.  It was a great bourbon, but what a totally useless waste of money and resources (and the thing had a sort of creepy, coffin-like look to it, but maybe that was appropriate for a whiskey from a dead distillery). 

Also, to elaborate on something Driscoll said in his StraightBourbon response, when we fetishize packaging, we only add to the industry perception that jacking up prices with fancy boxes and bottles is a good marketing strategy.  If you're one of those people who wrote a nasty email to your retailer about how your tin was dented, I don't want to hear you complaining about the next $500 whiskey released in a hand blown bottle nested in a wooden boat. 

What do you think?  If you are one of those people who finds value in the box?  I'd love to know why.


33 comments:

jeff said...

I'm a whiskey drinker, not an investor determined that alcohol is a brilliant retirement plan. I couldn't care less about a box. If the bottle arrives at my house intact, the box has done its job. Cheap cardboard is perfect for my purposes. I have better things to save than marketing materials.

dan-the-tax-man said...

Posted a poll on this issue to our informal whisky club...so far the vote is that packaging is not necessarily relevant. In a lot of cases, what is printed on the box is reprinted on the bottle.

For myself, I keep the boxes only until the bottle is opened, which leads me to ask what I am going to do with the wooden box my HP 25 bottle came in...back in April, my older brother picked up a bottle of HP 25 for me in New Brunswick, since it was $197 there, as opposed to $350 here in Ontario. When he went into the store to make the purchase, they asked him whether he wanted a carboard box or the wooden box. He asked if there was a difference in price. They said no, there was no difference, so he opted for the wooden box...and it looks really pretty, but I have no idea what to do with it... maybe I can use if to hold my dice and rpg figures...

My Annoying Opinions said...

I like attractive packaging (which does not have to be the same as expensive packaging). I have no interest in re-selling any of my whisky but as I have a large collection sitting on my shelves, waiting to be drunk I would prefer to keep closed bottles in tins/boxes--safer from the depredations of my kids and dogs--and not have my shelves look drab or ugly in the process; they're in a room I work in and aesthetics are important to me in general.

But I certainly don't buy whisky on account of its packaging. That said, if I am paying a lot of money for a whisky, and it seems likely that some fraction of that pays for the box then I want the box too. See, for example, the Highland Park 25.

Macdeffe said...

I have it exactly the same way as you Steve. 99% as we dont have earthquakes. Boxes are good for lightprotection for the few bottles I store outside a cupboard. If the box looks too fancy I dont buy a whisky. I once got a 5 £ discount in Campbeltown when I said I didn't want the box

When the rather simple Cadenhead box is 5 £, imagine what other more fancy boxes cosst consumerd

Steffen

David D said...

Thanks for adding to the discussion SKU. One thing I think we all can agree on is that when we're in a store, looking at the shelf ourselves, and we have the choice between the clean wine label or the one with the tear, we're all going to choose the clean one. To a certain extent, we all as humans have some level of aesthetic pleasure. There's nothing wrong with aesthetics. I am a total sucker for a beautiful label and statistics show that better labels on bottles help them to sell faster. But whisky producers never thought about how these packages or containers were going to be shipped across the country and how their tins would hold up during the process. They were never intended to get packed in styrofoam and arrive blemish free on your doorstep. They were meant to look pretty on a shelf when the customers walked down the aisle, to catch your attention. I can understand why people want the packaging, especially if they're paying for it, but I can't promise it will be blemish free. These are flimsy materials with little tolerance for the elements.

Henry Mowry said...

I appreciate good design ... the Angel's Envy bottles are the best I've seen in a while. And when the bottle is empty, it gets recycled. Boxes are a waste of resources, I agree. They also get recycled, though my wife did liberate a Booker's box to grow plants on the picnic table. Will that make me buy another bottle? Nope.

Anonymous said...

Funny you mention the 23 yr Pappy coffin. I had a local store that somehow had one. They had it displayed so you could see it as you walked in. After sitting there for almost a year at $500, they moved it to the back. After a year-and-a-half it finally sold.

Packaging really doesn't matter. I bought two bottles of GTS from this same store and they asked if I wanted the box they came in and I declined. Best thing was I got the GTS at 10% off because they couldn't move it.

sku said...

Since when does Stagg come in a box? Usually I just see it in the tissue paper.

BMc said...

I keep the ugly boxes. The Old Rip van Winkle 10 year is plug ugly, for instance. I'd love to get my hands on the infamous Butt Ugly Bottle that Elmer T Lee used to come in when it was higher proof.

BMc said...

whoops, I meant bottle, not box. Who keeps the box?!?! Even the best ones are boring, compared to the bottles inside.

Anonymous said...

When I bought both bottles of stagg, the manger asked if I wanted the box they came in. It was a a retangular, 3 bottle box. It was cool looking for a carboard box with the stagg logo on it, but I had no use for it other than to store my son's lincoln logs.

sku said...

Oh yeah, those are the case boxes.

My Annoying Opinions said...

Don't sleep on the usability of whisky boxes. We couldn't afford to build a shed in our yard but now my Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix tin holds our firewood and lawnmower. And our children sleep in my Amrut Intermediate Sherry box. Really, these things pay for themselves and then some.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, this all goes to the central reason why a consumer buys what that consumer buys. Sure, if you are buying a bottle of Fighting Cock whiskey, for $16.00, you probably are buying it to drink till gone, and then you buy some more. But, as used as an example, you are paying $400.00 for a bottle of whiskey, you are probably buying it for the image (or the image of having great taste). And that is the problem. When image - or investment - is the driving factor, the presentation is as equally important as the liquid inside. This is similar to the fountain pen craze, when someone plunks down thousands of dollars for a limited edition Mont Blanc, and does not even open the package, will have the contents x-rayed and the negative kept, in order to show that there is in fact a pen inside, and the whole thing kept for future resale. A wide range of reasons for the purchase exists. So, one should not be surprised when it all comes to a point of complications, anger and hurt feelings.

Anonymous said...

The last Wild Turkey 14 Tradition is textbook example of everything annoying about whiskey packaging. Excessive cost for a bunch of garish crap. Just sell the booze in a bottle, I don't care if it's just a screw cap bottle, and leave the faux pewter and mahogany to Ron Burgundy's study.

RN

Matt said...

I don't worry about blemishes in the packaging unless it's going to be a gift.

Retailers--Driscoll--I'd be interested to know, though, if there are any types of damage short of breakage that suggest the booze has been mishandled.

LostBottle said...

Perhaps the reaction is less about the packaging and more about the attitude of a certain retailer who takes to their closed-comments blog to complain about customers (you know, the people who pay for things and that you are supposed to provide customer service to) who purchase expensive whisky and have the nerve to be picky. My suggestion for retailers is to focus a bit more on being customer service oriented and a little less on being pseudo-celebrity bloggers. Just think, in the time it took to pen that little entry, an additional 40 emails could have been sent to customers to try and make them happy, rather than voicing your frustration at the people who pay your salary.

David D said...

"My suggestion for retailers is to focus a bit more on being customer service oriented and a little less on being pseudo-celebrity bloggers"

You see Steve, eventually the real problem always reveals itself.

'BearToe said...

By all means please stop discouraging people from believing there is a premium value to boxes. I'm hoping to retire early and live off my thin Karuizawa cardboard for a few years.

If that fails, I guess I could live in it.

Anonymous said...

LostBottle - I've shopped at K&L for five years and, I'm sure I'm not alone in saying, that David Driscoll is one of the most customer-serviced salesmen I have ever met. When I briefly moved out of state he personally took all my whisky to the post office and shipped it himself (since K&L couldn't do it). I've never had a store go to the lengths to keep my business like K&L has done. I think maybe if you'd actually shopped with them you'd know that already.

Seth L said...

If the K&L blog allowed comments it would be troll city. Smart move on their part. You can't write articles like that and expect level-headed responses.

Anonymous said...

@LostBottle, I don't find that the article complains about customers at all. If anything, it sounds like Driscoll is trying to get people their boxes and that's creating an entirely new set of issues. He's more frustrated that the packaging exists because he can't control its condition. The whole article is anti-packaging, not anti-customer. I think you need to chill out a bit.

Alex said...

I think David D. responds to more than enough customer emails, and I don't think his blog post takes away from that.

If K&L doesn't receive boxes in good condition then it's not their fault. If this were a commodity not in hot demand, the liquor stores could try to refuse damaged goods. But what are you going to do when you get a limited allocation of what your customers want, refuse the shipment (if it's even allowed by law)?

On the other hand, I do like the boxes while I still have the bottles, especially before I have opened them. They are good for protecting the bottle, including from light, and some of them are nice. If I want to display my bottles on a shelf, it's nice to have a mix of boxed and unboxed bottles--not because I fetishize packaging, but because I like to display my "toys" that are one of the interests in my life. Some boxes are nicer than just having a bunch of bottles lined up--one only needs to look at the display case photos on message boards to see examples.

However, I am referring to cheap cardboard tubes and boxes. Over-the-top packaging is unnecessary. There is an unlimited number of designs that can be printed and embossed, and that is enough for me.

By the way, there is absolutely no way a standard box or tube costs 5 GBP in the volumes they buy, regardless of how much of a discount they gave you.

sam k said...

This kind of self-centered drivel is why I've totally quit reading StraightBourbon and BourbonEnthusiast.

It's the same 15 guys spouting off endlessly just to hear themselves talk about whiskey, encapsulating previous quotes endlessly. I couldn't care less about them or the damn packaging.

David Driscoll and Sku are voices of reason, and I'm more than happy to listen to what they and their readers (OK, at least Sku's) have to say.

Tomorrow I'm headed to WhiskyFest New York...where the rubber meets the road!

LostBottle said...

sam k, either you lie and did not "entirely quit reading StraightBourbon" or you are yammering on about something you never bothered to read and have no idea about. Which is it?

Speaking of endlessly quoting the same thing, should I sign off with "where the rubber meets the road" or some other tired cliche while promoting my own self-centeredness by trying to impress internet strangers with my plans?

sku said...

Alright folks, let's please not devolve into personal attacks. Thank you.

My Annoying Opinions said...

"Sku's Recent Eats: Bringing People Together, One Post At A Time"

Seth L said...

Agreed on the K&L front. David has put in orders for me via email at 1 AM. The guy is a customer service machine who apparently doesn't sleep.

Matt said...

Looks like someone in this thread inspired their own K&L spirits blog post!

Anonymous said...

That's interesting, Sku. I throw-out the whiskey and keep the boxes. I also boycott hotels and airports with vending equipment that scuffs the labels of my Sierra Mist. And don't get me started on any McDonald's that has ever tried to rip my family off by handing my child a "Happy Meal" in a bag. It's all about customer service. If you don't have the boxes, then don't pretend to be selling my child a Happy Meal. I will not pay the full Happy Meal price without the pristine Happy Meal box, and I will never patronize their franchise again unless they offer me a groveling apology and generous discount.

David D said...

Matt - Actually that post was inspired by a guy who sent me an angry three-page email about how my improper use of grammar, and my unwillingness to correct it, insulted him on a personal level. He's not sure if he wants to continue shopping with us as a result. It's one of the most amazing emails I have ever received.

Matt said...

I hope you suggested he read Bourbon Truth (which I quite enjoy -- thanks for the tip, Sku)!

Anonymous said...

David, he is probably one of RP's disciples.