Fleeced Like A Frog – The Sharp Increase In Razor Prices

The story goes that if you put a frog in boiling water, it will jump out immediately. But if you put the frog in cold water, then gradually heat the water, the frog will remain in the water and die. Biologically speaking, this is apparently a load of old codswallop (see for example http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=758865 and http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/01/frog.html), though I’ve never felt the urge to put this to the test myself. However the “boiled frog” metaphor can be useful, as I’ll explain in just a moment. Before I do though, let me remind you of another story: that of the humble razor.

Time was when men were men and razors were “cut throat”. That all changed in 1904 when King Camp Gillette, a travelling salesman, patented a safety razor with a disposable, double-edged blade (see http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blrazor.htm). Jacob Schick’s patent for the electric razor followed in 1928.

The increasing popularity of the electric razor prompted further technical development in the late 1950s and 1960s onwards: long-life stainless steel blades were introduced by Wilkinson Sword in 1956 and twin-blade safety razors came in the 1960s, along with the completely disposable, one-piece plastic razor introduced by Bic (see http://inventors.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http://www.zooscape.com/cgi-bin/maitred/RedSafari/questw10000037/critiquec300004).

With the introduction of plastics in the manufacture of razors and with increasing numbers of players in the market, prices plummeted and only the competition was “cut throat”. It seemed that the cost per shave would remain low indefinitely. So how is it that some disposable plastic razors are currently marketed at astronomical prices? Are we being sold the shaving equivalent of the Emperor’s new clothes? (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Emperor%27s_New_Clothes)

Let’s now go back to the frog metaphor, to see how this applies to the purchase of disposable razors.

As we have seen, the history of razors goes back a long time and various innovations have been made along the way. Until recently, these refinements have arguably brought genuine improvement for the purchaser (the “frog”). And the price per shave had become very low (“cold”). But recent developments, including three-blade, four-blade and even six-blade razors, have not greatly improved the shaving experience and thus have not warranted the horrendous hike in prices (the greatly raised “temperature”) charged for these implements.

So will the “frog” jump out of the “pot”? The most likely answer, sadly, is probably not. And unpacked, the razor marketer’s reasoning for this is not that hard to fathom:

  • in general, people buy on emotion rather than on logic
  • men are certainly no exception to this rule
  • everyone “knows” the “reasons” for shaving – the “need” for this activity is rarely challenged
  • in our culture, new is seen as “good” and old is thought “bad”
  • just as consumers spending more money is “good” and saving is “bad”
  • more blades must equate to a closer shave in the purchaser’s mind
  • single, double-edged blades are for great-grandad, twin-blades are for grandad and multi-bladed weapons are for today’s young man
  • sex sells
  • the higher the price, the fatter the profits
  • how else can we justify our monstrous marketing budget?

Despite derision for multi-bladed razors from certain quarters (for example http://newsbiscuit.com/2009/05/25/gillette-and-wilkinson-sword-agree-razor-blade-non-proliferation-treaty/), few people seem to have commented on the price rise.

What do you think? Are “trendy” razor prices justified? In general, are you spending your hard-earned cash in the most effective way? Is your spending consistent with your higher goals? Post your comments here.

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