If you are a parent, you were almost certainly frustrated while opening toy packages for your child over the Christmas holidays.

The Toy Package Problem

Some toys are tied into packages with complex ties that require cutting or unwinding. Some toys are literally screwed into their packaging and require a screwdriver to remove them. Some toys require a hammer and drill to assemble. Some toys even require a level. Some toys require batteries (not included), others ask you to turn an Allen wrench several hundred times to complete assembly.

Aside from the hassle, the time required to open and/or assemble is the real rub.

You’re sacrificing time at the most hectic time of the year to jump through hoops to open a toy. You’re taking a timeout from gift opening time with the family to break into inconvenient packages for eager children. You’re looking for your tools to assemble and/or open the toys. You’re up until the wee hours assembling toys on Christmas Eve. You’re shoehorning assembly of toys into the days leading up to Christmas amid all the wrapping and shopping.

Why The Problem Exists

The toy package exterior is designed to be as attractive as possible. This is to catch your child’s eye, to make them want the toy, and to make the sale.

This is apparently the only part of the toy package where the customer is really a consideration at all. Once you have made the decision to buy the toy and presented the toy to your child, it’s too late to turn around. Your child’s heart is now set on the toy.

The toymaker knows this. Once you reach the package interior, you are faced with an obstacle course to take the toy from package to play-ready.

The toy is broken into many parts to fit the toy into a smaller package, thus allowing more toys to fit on a truck or on a shelf. Often, the decals are not even applied to the toy (seriously?) to save labor at the factory. Sometimes the same decisions that make the toy look nice in the package lead to the very ties and screws that make the toy difficult to remove from the package. Sometimes, you might be away from home and realize you don’t even have the necessary tools to assemble the toy once you open the box.

There is zero consideration given to making for a fun or easy “unboxing” experience like you might find for customers of an Apple product. The process is time-consuming, at best, and disappointing for parents and children, at worst.

This is an industry that has never even considered disruption as a possibility for a long time. But, bad news for toymakers and good news for the rest of us…

The Disruption Opportunity

This is an industry ripe for disruption. The disruption could be purely at the retail level or could be a vertically integrated entity from the manufacturer level to the retail level.

Imagine a toy store that sells only toys that are “play-ready” from the time that the boxes are opened. All the toys that don’t need assembly would be in “easy to open” boxes where – crazy idea – any school age child could open their own toys. The toys that need assembly would be designed to be as quick and painless as possible. The pain and frustration of toy packaging would be a dinosaur of the past. When you buy toys, you get that well-thought out “Apple-like” opening experience.

Yes, the toys will be a little more expensive due to designing the experience around the customer rather than the manufacturer and retailer. Less toys will fit on a shelf. Less will fit on a truck. A little more labor may be required at the factory.

But, would you be more likely to take your child toy shopping at this hypothetical store or at a Toys ‘R Us? Would you gladly pay a little more per toy for a guaranteed better experience? How much more are you already paying for a Mac or iPhone versus similar products in the name of a better experience?

Other Companies That Disrupted Under Similar Situations

When will the disruption happen? I don’t know “when”, but, the disruption seems inevitable. There is one constant in good economic times and bad – people love to spend money on their children. People also love to be “enchanted” by new, innovative companies that fix age-old problems in interesting ways.

In the Western world, most of the “big problems” of modern day life are more or less solved – food, shelter, water, electricity.

At this point, the companies that disrupt industries and become larger than life are companies that fix the remaining annoyances like toy package problems. We sometimes forget how relatively minor the annoyances were that spawned the multi-billion dollar mega-corporations that we take for granted today.

We didn’t like hailing cabs or calling cab companies, so, Uber was born. Often, Uber is cheaper, but, convenience is the real selling point.

We didn’t like paying for shipping or entering purchase information over and over on different websites, so, we now buy everything from Amazon. They made it easy to do business with them and they carry almost everything. Do you even price check them any more?

We didn’t like going to the movie rental store. We didn’t like setting our DVR to record. Heck, we didn’t even like our cable company’s clunky (but free!) on-demand streaming service. None of it was a good experience, so, Netflix grew and grew and grew and, now, has nearly unstoppable momentum.

None of these things changed the human race. But, they made the lives of millions just a little easier and a little better. That created all the massive value reflected in the stock price of these companies.

The toy package disruption is inevitable and I, as a customer, can’t wait.

What’s the Lesson?

You are probably asking – What does all this mean for me? What’s the broader lesson here?

It means that, now, more than ever, you should think about your customer experience.

  • Are you presenting an offer, a “package exterior“, that is just good enough to make a sale?
  • Are you following up the sale with a “package interior” that is frustrating or that falls below customer expectations?
  • Are you continually making decisions that reduce the customer experience to add a little profit to your bottom line?
  • Most importantly – would your customers say they “can’t wait” for you to be disrupted?

If the answers to these questions are “yes”, then you, and possibly your whole industry, will only be relevant as long as your customers have no other option.

Companies and industries that say “yes” to the above questions are the places where the “bean counters” have long since taken control of the executive suite. These are the places where it has ceased being about the customer. These are the places, where a “vision” is non-existent, unless you count “increase revenue by 12% YOY” as a vision.

In these companies & industries, the customer is only a concern when it comes to providing an attractive enough “package exterior” to close a sale. Then, the “package interior” is delivered as cheaply as possible. These are the places where it’s not a question of “if” disruption will occur, only “when”.

If You Want to Be An Innovator

If you want to innovate and are looking for an opportunity, then these are the situations you should have your eyes peeled for. Outside of toys, dozens such opportunities are still out there, look for one that speaks to you and your interest and experience.

Look for the types of industries where you see the below types of behaviors:

  • The “package exterior” makes the sale, but, the “package interior” greatly under-delivers.
  • There is an unspoken code among the current competitors of remaining “just good enough”.
  • The current competitors are blind to the problem or believe their customers have “no other choice”.
  • The current competitors see the problem, but, are unwilling or unable to give up the profits of the “old way” to create a more customer-friendly “new way”.

These are the industries that are just waiting for a visionary to ride in and say, “Enough of this, I see a better way, the customer deserves better”.

Once this happens, nothing in that industry will ever be the same again.