One by one, almost every product that can be offered by subscription is being offered online. Diapers at diapers.com, drugs at drugstore.com, food at freshdirect.com and now razor blades at dollarshaveclub.com. This is more than a fad, it is a trend – and, unlike some trends, the affect subscriptions will have on brick & mortar retail is easy to calculate and hard to ignore.
There are many lessons to learn from dollarshaveclub.com, lets look at a few of them.
First, dollarshaveclub.com identified an opportunity: Razor blades are expensive and there is a market for a good blade at a good price. Razor blades are so expensive that, to succeed, dollarshaveclub.com would not need to be the least expensive blades, just a good balance of convenience, quality and price.
If you haven't seen dollarshaveclub.com's promotional video, take a minute to watch it. It is the very definition of what a well produced, well-targeted video should look like.
If you haven't been to dollarshaveclub.com, take a minute to visit the site and see how a transactional website can be seamlessly merged with an experiential branded website. This is very hard to do and dollarshaveclub.com has accomplished it nicely.
Of course I had to test it out, so I signed up a few weeks ago and, within a week I received my first order. There are three packages to choose from – I chose the middle one – a four-blade razor. For $6 per month, dollarshaveclub.com will send you four new blades each month.
The package was simple and thrifty. In the envelope was a handle, four blades and some promotional material.
Just to level set for a second, beards are as individual as the people who have them. So my experience is probably not typical, but it might be. Spoiler alert: The following paragraph about my personal shaving experiences may fall into the category of TMI (too much information), so you may want to skip it.
I have a pretty tough beard and have been a happy The Art of Shaving customer for over a year. I use the entire system, pre-shave oil, shaving soap applied by brush and a five-blade razor (The one that is spoofed in the dollarshaveclub.com video) the Gillette Fusion blade. The eight pack of these blades costs $25 at The Art of Shaving, that's $3.13 per blade plus tax and shipping if you order online, or plus tax and transportation if you buy them at the store. (dollarshaveclub.com's four-blade blades cost $1.50 each, no tax, shipping is free).
I did the side-by-side comparison test and I can tell you without hesitation that the Gillette Fusion blade absolutely smokes the dollarshaveclub.com blades. It is no contest. A two-week old Fusion blade will give you a closer shave than a brand new dollarshaveclub.com blade, hands down. So, while dollarshaveclub.com founder Michael Dubin asks the rhetorical question, "Are our blades good?" Then answers, "No, their f#@king great!" That answer might be both self-serving and a bit of an exaggeration – as far as my beard is concerned, the dollarshaveclub.com blade offers a sub-optimal shaving experience.
I am a little sad that I can't save $6 per month on blades. It would have been fun. But for less than the cost of a trip through the Midtown Tunnel, I'm not going to sacrifice a great shave with The Art of Shaving's Gillette Fusion blades for a truly bad shave with dollarshaveclub.com blades.
OK, back to the future. Let's not lose sight of the impact of subscriptions on traditional retail businesses just because dollarshaveclub.com doesn't offer a superior product. Maybe other men will find the shave excellent or acceptable for the money. And, as we all know, if dollarshaveclub.com is not the ultimate solution to this market inefficiency, fiftycentshaveclub.com or some other new entity will figure out how to do it better and the business will evolve.
One very instructive and interesting factoid is that dollarshaveclub.com is not the least expensive way to purchase blades online. It is confirmed that dollarshaveclub.com buys at least some of its blades from a company called Dorco. At dorcousa.com you will get an up close personal look at how badly a website can be designed, how impossible it can be for a consumer to make a comparison purchase and how, no matter how much they offer to save you, your time is worth more. Dorco's website is neither experiential nor transactional, it's just bad.
You'll learn more from comparing dollarshaveclub.com and dorcousa.com than you will from trying to figure out how to do a viral video like dollarshaveclub.com's for your company.
Mike, I wanted to love dollarshaveclub.com - I think you guys are geniuses, I just wish the blades actually were f@#king great.
Shelly Palmer is Fox 5 New York's On-air Tech Expert (WNYW-TV) and the host of Fox Television's monthly show Shelly Palmer Digital Living. He also hosts United Stations Radio Network's, Shelly Palmer Digital Living Daily, a daily syndicated radio report that features insightful commentary and a unique insiders take on the biggest stories in technology, media, and entertainment. He is Managing Director of Advanced Media Ventures Group, LLC an industry-leading advisory and business development firm and a member of the Executive Committee of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (the organization that bestows the coveted Emmy® Awards). Palmer is the author of Television Disrupted: The Transition from Network to Networked TV 2nd Edition (York House Press, 2008) the seminal book about the technological, economic, and sociological forces that are changing everything and, Overcoming The Digital Divide: How to use Social Media and Digital Tools to Reinvent Yourself and Your Career (York House Press, 2011) For more information, visit shellypalmer.com.
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