I am wondering why LEGO puts sets in big packages. All bricks are put in small plastic bags and from my experience the packaging could be at least half of what it is.

There is so much told these days about ecology (especially in the EU, where LEGO has its seat), the smaller boxes would lead to better use of containers, so less CO2 during transportation and so on.

I understand that larger box "promises" something BIG inside, but could also lead to some disappointment.

When I was a kid and had my own sets, I'm sure they were relatively smaller.

  • Good point. The box for the Technic Unimog is really big and they could have likely got away with a box that was 25% smaller.
    – tombull89
    Commented May 9, 2013 at 9:59

3 Answers 3


I think you're just discovered a "downsizing". This word has many explanations and definitions depending on aspect of life, where used. But in influence and manipulation the meaning is clear and partially explained by Josh. Your brain assumes the bigger package is, the bigger value it has or the bigger contents you're getting.

The general idea of downsizing in influence and manipulation is that you're getting the same amount as in case of competitive product, but you think you're getting more because of bigger package. An alternative version of downsizing assumes that you're getting less than competitive company offers, but you think you're getting the same, because of the same packaging. And — of course — the price is the same as that of the competing company. Thanks to packaging, it does not have to be adjusted to lower amount customer is getting.

The key to the success is that in most cases, the differences between reduced and competitive products are so slight that customers don't realize they've bought less paying the same (not adjusted price). But since the not noticeable difference is multiplied by thousands or even millions of sold products, customers see no difference and the company saves or earns extra millions of dollars.

This works in every or nearly every aspect of shopping. If you'll see two milk shakes, two washing powders, cakes, butters, milks, anything and one of them will be in a bigger package than the other, you'll most likely automatically pick up the bigger one. Your brain assumes that this is better for you. LEGO is no exception here and I'm pretty sure that if they wouldn't receive negative response and push from eco-oriented organisations (what RegDwight explained) they'd continue their politics.

This works brilliantly (for the manipulator, not for you, of course), especially if you're doing quick shopping in a large mall and you reserve seconds or even split seconds for the process of selecting a particular product over another one. You're often fouled by manipulators using downsizing — bigger packaging does not necessary mean higher volume. I saw (too) many examples where the customer selecting a bigger package was in fact getting a smaller volume. But due to the very limited time for decision, they only checked the size or weight at home, or [erhaps never.

Some sources claim that a big pinch in the bottom of each or nearly each wine bottle is in fact another example of downsizing, not a handy catchpoint allowing the bartender to hold the bottle in one hand. If you pinch-up the bottom of the bottle that much, you can produce a bigger (wider) bottle, that contains the same amount of wine a competitive company offers. But since your bottle is wider (thanks to pinch-up) your customer will most likely choose your bottle, not the competing one.

Downsizing in influence is sometimes called "A British Airways olives example" after the first documented use of this mechanism. Which, at the same time, explains why it is so common and so often used to foul us. Many years ago, British Airways managers calculated that removing two olives from drinks served on board all their planes would reduce the overall costs of flights by millions of pounds in a year's time. They went ahead and thus downsizing was born. Customers were getting less than competitive flight companies offered, but the difference was not noticeable, so nobody complained. When this small difference was multiplied by a number of flights British Airways serves on each routers during entire year, company savings were at level of tens of millions pounds.

  • 3
    Sorry, this is hogwash. You take one buzzword, downsizing, and then you exaggerate everything about it out of all proportion. The bottles example is utter nonsense, and the "tens of millions pounds" is probably the most striking instance of something you only just invented on the spot, but it's by far not the only one. The whole answer reads like pure speculation assembled out of thin air as you go along. I'd suggest to drastically tone it down, providing references for all the egregious claims, and going away with the claims you cannot prove.
    – RegDwight
    Commented May 18, 2013 at 15:06
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    More to the point, though, downsizing is not a term that applies in the first place. Downsizing, by (any) definition, does not describe a status quo; it only describes a change. Like, taking the Town Hall that has 2800 parts, and then silently reducing it to 2300 parts, without changing the package size. That simply does not happen with LEGO. Also, upon closer examination you will find that all the typical reasons for downsizing listed in your answer do not actually apply to LEGO as much as you make it sound, and some do not apply at all, in point of fact.
    – RegDwight
    Commented May 18, 2013 at 15:38
  • Interesting answer, but this is bricks.se, psychology.se is a different site.
    – tombull89
    Commented May 19, 2013 at 14:27
  • @RegDwight: Everything I wrote in this answer are true facts, based on verifiable sources, mostly books and articles on influence and manipulation. My only mistake was, that (since I'm Pole) I used a word "downsizing", we use in Poland to describe mentioned mechanism. Since it has clearly English-based meaning, I assumed, that it exists also in English. Turned out I was wrong. As I checked right know, this word is not used in English in the same meaning as in Polish. I can't find proper English word for this meaning of "downsizing" in Polish. A "cut-off", "reduction"?
    – trejder
    Commented May 19, 2013 at 19:42
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    I think that trejder's point of view is ok (not because I'm a Pole too :-) ), but in Josh's answer in fact there is the same thing, but less about this "manipulation stuff". I think TLG is not "the only honest (big) company in the world" and is manipulating its customers as any other.
    – Voitcus
    Commented May 19, 2013 at 20:08

Actually TLG are listening, and in fact are replacing boxes with smaller ones right now as we speak.

enter image description here

These new boxes will have a FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification “which lowers the CO2 impact of its packaging by about 10%.” You will be able to start seeing the smaller boxes this year and by 2015, all of the products will be in smaller boxes. With this change, LEGO will save about 4000 tons of cardboard which is about 18% of their current consumption. These new boxes will come from sustainable forest so less trees will have to be taken down.

[...] LEGO is also involved in other plans to lower their carbon footprint. About 25% of the emissions are from manufacturing of the bricks themselves so they’ve made plans to mold the bricks more efficiently. The company also has invested in wind energy to improve their energy consumption.

Emphasis mine.

Now, as to why the boxes were huge in the first place, I can't tell. I heard all kinds of theories over the years, from "so the parts have room to move and don't get damaged" to "it looks more impressive on the shelves". But as this recent move demonstrates, all these reasons could either be worked around, or were negligible to begin with.

  • Thanks for the info, +1 for you. As you've written, this problem is seen by the Lego Group. I think making the parts move is making them "work" in worse conditions, normally it is solved by some foam or any other flexible material.
    – Voitcus
    Commented May 9, 2013 at 12:45
  • 1
    This is terrific. On top of saving the environment, this will also save many of us a lot of closet space.
    – jncraton
    Commented May 9, 2013 at 15:02
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    The reason I heard most about big packaging is more in the line of "more impressive on shelves", but with a twist: the idea would be that the image of the model on the box should be as big as the model itself - which can lead to the problems you can imagine, especially with Technic. Looking at your sample, I feel the box on the left looks "better". Also, there's a marketing angle: customers may feel they get more for their money if the box is bigger, especially if there's another brand on the shelf which has lower prices...
    – Joubarc
    Commented May 10, 2013 at 6:09
  • That's the reasonable answer, but when I open the box and see just two small bags of parts... Disappointing! But maybe I am not the typical customer :)
    – Voitcus
    Commented May 10, 2013 at 6:43
  • 1
    @Joubarc that is an interesting twist, and originally that may well have been the case, but right now that reason is as bogus as any other. The Town Hall is actually smaller than its picture on the package. Same for the VW Camper Van. And the R2-D2 on the package is almost twice its actual size — in one direction, but we are talking about a 3D model, so you are led to believe it would be 8 times larger overall. I lost count of how many people were underwhelmed by my R2-D2 after having seen the package. And these are not the only sets like that, the list goes on.
    – RegDwight
    Commented May 15, 2013 at 18:14

When I asked a LEGO employee this, I was told, "Because the retailers tell us to". They went on to tell me that consumers' perceived value of $200 toy is influenced by the size of the box it's in. If some other random toy is on the shelves next to $100 LEGO sets, and the random toy is in a huge box and is only $9, the reptilian part of your brain goes wild and wants the $9 bargain. Look at LEGO sets on the shelves and you'll see there is a strong relationship between price and box size, but not so much with the volume of plastic parts inside. My understanding is that they've been able to talk their way into slightly smaller packaging, but there's still a huge amount of air in there.

  • That's reasonable, I was thinking about this, too.
    – Voitcus
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 6:52

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