Wet Shave Economics

25 May, 2013 | BusinessHealthTdpShaving

I don't wet shave every day, not because I don't need to shave every day, but because I alternate with an electric shaver, partly for speed and partly to give my skin a rest.  There's no denying the wet shave is much better though.

I'm a fan of the Gillette Mach 3 (Turbo or otherwise, not really that bothered). Three blades is plenty to give a close shave and I rarely get any nicks or cuts. I've resisted the bombardment of advertising trying to get me to switch to the Fusion, who needs five blades?

As I don't use it every day, I tend to keep blades for much longer than most guys. Gillette have stated that their ProGlide Fusion blades should last up to five weeks, but real-world experience seems to vary from a week on up. Mine typically go for a few months, though I've never actually kept track (and I probably should change them more frequently).

As such you'd think the price of a pack of blades would be less important to me, but I still begrudge paying it. A four-pack of Mach 3 'cartridges' will run you over £6, while a pack of eight comes in at around £11. Blade cartridges can cost the equivalent of several pounds each, yet apparently cost about 10p to manufacture (no wonder Gillette can afford to advertise so much!).

The Subscription Model

To be fair, I could go with Amazon's subscribe and save, which would give me slightly better pricing. There's also a rising number of subscription services for razor blades.

Dollar Shave Club grabbed a lot of press because of a great video that went viral. While not the first, a service that lets you subscribe to cheap blades sounds great. They offer five two-blade cartridges a month for a dollar (update: actually it's $3 with postage). Not sure why you need that many, but still, a dollar a month.  They're not in the UK yet but I doubt it'll be a pound a month.

King of Shaves offers a similar service in the UK already (as do Smarter Shaves), but at £3 a month (granted, that's for a four-blade cartridge, which is more akin to DSC's $6 a month offering). For that you get four cartridges a month, so one a week basically, which again seems high (at least for me). They do offer the ability to subscribe bi-monthly though.

If you're using a blade a week, these services work out cheap. If you're using more like a blade a month, you're going to find them stacking up while paying more.

The Double Edge/Safety Razor

For comparison, if I went back to a safety razor (something that seems to be in vogue), I could pick up 100 blades for under a tenner. You could afford a new blade every day for less money than the other options.

I have to confess I'm tempted to give a DE (as they're known) razor a try and, judging by the settling down of the market (no more adding blades or vibrating things recently) it looks like Gillette and co are out of innovations. Ironically, there's a fairly big (relatively speaking) investment to buy all the equipment if you want to go the whole hog down the DE route (it works out cheaper in the long run, here's a nice comparison).

That's not the only reason though, in fact some guys are switching back, not to save money, but to get a better shave. They're spending more on things like shaving soap, pre-shave oils and the like, as well as a lot more time.

The Future

The cost of shaving, spread over a year, isn't that high. Even if you use a Mach 3 blade a week it costs under £80 (if you're a ProGlide Power user on the other hand, it's more like £130). It can add up though (by some calculations, switching to a DE razor could save you £1,000 over 20 years).

Gillette have tried to keep adding more (needless) features to their razors and blades, but I can't see where else they can go. Subscription services look like they can help reduce the cost for multi-blade cartridges, and if they gain enough support, I'd expect Gillette to take notice.

Word out mouth and nostalgia seem to be the only marketing tools for DE/safety razors, but I'd be surprised if we don't see a bit more resurgence as male cosmetic products continue their rise (especially if one of the big players starts offering shaving soaps and creams).

So it could all change. One thing's for sure though: we have to keep shaving. At least until they invent some permanent hair removal cream.