coupons

DEAR JILL: Does it ever make sense to buy razor blades? Ever since I started using coupons, I find lots of deals on quality blade razors. I'm talking about all of the big brands. However, I never see deals on the blades.

To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, I bought a razor that was just .99 after a coupon. This razor came with two blade cartridges, and inside the package was a coupon for $4 off replacement blades.

The next time I went to the store, I checked the price on the blades, and they were $9.99. Even if I use the coupon, I will still be paying $5.99 for four blade cartridges, which is about $1.50 each. If I buy another new razor with the handle and two cartridges again with a coupon, I will only pay .99, which is .50 per cartridge.

If these brands will sell the razor handle and starter cartridges so cheaply, why don't they just sell replacement blades at a lower price too? - DON C.

DEAR DON: There are a few different promotional strategies at play here, but the primary one is known as the "razor blade business model." As you discovered, brands will often sell a razor starter kit at a bargain-basement price, especially when a coupon is used. Then, the brands hope that you like the product enough to continue buying cartridges for it - at any price! While this may seem odd to devoted coupon shoppers, keep in mind that the rest of the world typically does shop this way. Shoppers who aren't terribly price-conscious buy what they need right now and not what's necessarily a good price right now.

Once a brand has created product loyalty with a shopper, that's exactly what the brand hopes to establish: A long, brand-specific relationship where the shopper heads to the store for more blades whenever he or she runs out of them. This is also the reason that we coupon shoppers rarely see coupons for replacement blade cartridges. The brand hopes that if we're using the razor, we'll simply buy the cartridges without much additional thought.

Over the years that I've been a price-conscious shopper, I've noticed some other products that have tried to succeed with the same model: Sell the starter product inexpensively, while charging a higher price for the refills. Plug-in air fresheners are a good example of an item that successfully follows this model.

However, the "razor blade" model doesn't always work in the marketplace though, as consumers must adopt it and embrace purchasing the refills for it to be successful.

A popular brand of dishwasher detergent launched a dispenser, which sat in your dishwasher rack and used one load of detergent each time the dishwasher ran. The dispenser and 12-load cartridge was on sale for $4.99 when it came out, and the brand ran a $5 coupon campaign to make it free. However, 24-load replacement cartridges were a whopping $10.99, and there were no coupons available for those. Considering that a typical load of dishwasher detergent (bought on sale, of course) is about 5 or 6 cents per load, not enough consumers bought the high-priced refills for this product to be a success.

A well-known soap brand came out with a line of liquid hand soap pumps with patterned bottles designed to match different kinds of decor. The brand offered multiple coupons for the starter packs during the product's launch, but few for the refill bottles. The soap pump-and-refill starter packs were a great deal with coupons, but the patterned soap bottle refills were three times the price of the brand's standard, clear-bottle liquid hand soap pumps - and there were few coupons for those. Once again, shoppers voted with their dollars, and this product was off the market in a year's time.

It's understandable why brands continue to push products that require refills on the public - they want shoppers locked into regularly purchasing specific products from them, and them only. If a product is a success, they create loyalty to a product which continues to pay them, month after month.

CTW Features Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about Super-Couponing at her website, www.jillcataldo.com. Email your own couponing victories and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com.

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