How to Shave Costs on Razors

For years, I’ve felt like a sap whenever I bought razors.

It killed me to spend $2.50 to $3 a blade for my Gillette Mach 3. Yet the few times when I used cheap disposable razors, it was like shaving with a file.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I bought a serviceable store-brand razor that costs about half the price of the premier brands.

It shouldn’t have come to this. I’ve used Gillette razors for decades, and I like them. The rub is the cost. In my book, a fair price for refills would be about a buck.

I’m a believer in markets, but it doesn’t seem like the razor-blade market gives me what I want. Instead of competing on price, Gillette and Schick largely seem to be engaged in a silly arms race to improve a product that already works perfectly well. Two blades, three blades, four blades — when will it stop?

Not anytime soon, apparently. Schick will soon launch its own five-blade razor, and says that prices for it should be 10% to 20% above the Quattro, its four-blade razor that was introduced in 2003.

Gillette, a unit of Procter & Gamble (PG), got there first. Its Fusion Power MVP — an early version of which went on sale in 2006 — has five spring-mounted blades and battery-powered micropulses to reduce friction “so you barely feel the blades.” The Gillette Web site has a video of a mechanic with a giant razor blade on a car lift.

Razor makers, I have news for you. A razor is not a sports car. It won’t make us feel young again or turn women’s heads. We don’t like shaving, and no matter what you do, we never will. All we want is a razor that will do the job without nicking us, either literally or figuratively.

But Gillette and Schick have a different view. Gillette is constantly doing research and development to create the perfect shave, says Mike Norton, a spokesman. “It’s not the number of blades, it’s the science behind the blades that gives you a better shave.”

Jackie Burwitz of Energizer Holdings (ENR), which owns Schick, says, “If you look at the sales data, consumers are willing to pay up for a better-performing razor.”

There you have it. There’s more money to be made developing fancier and fancier razors than in keeping the same razors and engaging in a price war. In other words, we American males have only ourselves to blame for the five-blade razor.

Over the years, I’ve compensated for the rising prices of razor blades by using less of them. Whereas I once might have changed blades every week or so, I now go two or three weeks before popping in a new one.

A colleague of mine is married to a thrifty Frenchman who waits at least two months before changing razor blades. He has gone as long as six months. When he does change blades, it feels “like a warm knife through butter,” says Jean-Philippe Masson, 36 years old. “If you changed every week, you would not appreciate that pleasure.”

That’s the French way. The American way, of course, rarely involves denying ourselves something. Instead, we look for a way to get it cheaper.

Maybe that’s why there’s a thriving market out there for after-market razors.

There are people still selling blades for Gillette Trac II, the two-blade razor I used as a young man. A Web site advertised a 100-pack of after-market refills for $49.99. Alas, I haven’t owned a Trac II for many years.

Instead, I went to my local CVS pharmacy, where the chain was pitching its “three-blade shaving system.” I paid $12.50 for a razor and 10 blades, bringing my per-blade cost to $1.25.

I’ve been trying out the CVS razor for the past couple of weeks. It was just as comfortable as the three-blade Gillette I’ve used for several years.

The Gillette might have given me a slightly closer shave than the CVS razor. I really can’t say for sure. I can’t tell the difference between a great shave and good one. But I can tell the difference between paying $2.50 and $1.25.

To be fair to Gillette, I agreed to try out its latest, greatest razor. So Gillette sent me a Fusion ProGlide Power razor, a five-blade razor that hits the market in June. It will have a suggested retail price of $12.99 for a razor and two cartridges. A four-pack of refills will cost $17.99.

I used the new razor over the weekend before sending it back to Gillette. It was a closer shave. But when I finished, the smooth face I saw peering back in the mirror was still my own, not George Clooney’s. And I’d still feel like a sap spending $4.50 each time I changed blades.

So I’m sticking with the CVS razor. Until I find something cheaper.

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Posted in Finance, Health & Beauty.

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