Fear outweighs the risk
The fear that a tampering event generates is out of all proportion to the risk, and people will avoid the brand or the shop where the item was purchased for a long time after the problem is resolved. Hence, TE devices become a comfort to the consumer. They present an image of responsibility by the brand owner that they are taking the problem seriously and promote the belief that the product is more secure than any competitive product that does not have an equivalent device. Following a tampering, it is common for products with tamper-evident devices to have increased sales and those without to have reduced sales.
Anyone believing they have an effective TE device that is superior to any others can get it independently tested. There are companies that test for efficacy where they have a team comprising a group of people who will tamper with the products and another team to try to find out how they achieved the tampering. Needless to say the scores show that TE devices cannot prevent tampering.
Thinking like a criminal
Part of the basic problem is that the designers of TE devices do not think like criminals. Another factor is the cost; to make a more effective deterrent is costly. I have seen a company assess the risk and conclude it to be cheaper to insure against a tampering event than to increase the packaging costs. This was not widely known because it was believed that if the consumers knew that the company preferred to insure against, rather than try to defend against, tampering, the adverse publicity could be damaging. I also have seen companies put TE in the top three priorities for their company’s R&D activities throughout the time when some incident reached the papers and, within one month after the end of the publicity, the topic was dropped from their list of priorities as public fervor moved elsewhere. This effectively highlighted that, for at least that company, the issue of tampering related more to a fear of adverse publicity than anything else.
In cases where tampering occurred it was shown that, in a number of instances, the buyer could have been alerted by several features that were wrong with the purchased products. The biggest cause of someone consuming a tampered product was their lack of observation of what they were buying.
Four chances to notice tampering
Many of us when shopping regard it as a chore and want to get it over with quickly. We only see the product briefly on four main occasions, once when we take it from the shelf, once at the checkout, once when we put it away at home and finally on the first time we use it. People rarely examine the products in detail at any of these times, certainly I seldom do. I am more interested in rushing round quickly and only have a general impression that what I have picked is identical to those around it.
I have tested how easy it is to tamper with products during some lectures I gave on packaging security by offering to an audience a selection of products with which I had tampered. This was to demonstrate how easily food products could be tampered with and how difficult it is to identify tampering other than by fully opening the package. I placed a paper inside some items and others I injected with a food dye. I then invited people from the audience to tell me which had been tampered with. This is a false test in that the audience knew what I had been talking about and were allowed to spend several minutes with each of the products searching for clues – something they would never normally do during their weekly shopping. Even with this attention, it was rare that my efforts were detected.
Public vigilance is key
I think that TE devices can promote false confidence. If consumers stop looking at purchases because there is a device publicized as doing the job for them, then consumers will become more vulnerable. As TE devices do not stop tampering, it is essential that consumers continue to be educated to be more observant of the packaging and product as they themselves are still the best defense against any tampering incidence.
I believe that the TE packaging only serves to reduce grazing, which is a form of theft, but does nothing to protect the consumer against any real tampering attempt.
It falsely promotes a sense of security for the consumer that reduces what little interest they take in the choice of any individual item. It is only the continued vigilance of the public, not only in the store but also once they have the product at home, that will be the best protection for the consumer.
Hence, “Buyer beware” is still the best maxim.