Unboxing Harry

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Originally published in Applied Arts Magazine, 2014

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Shaving. Some men hate to do it. Others love it.

Me, I love to do it. Maybe I have OCD. Or maybe I just don’t like the fact that with more than a day’s growth on my face, I look a lot older. And I’m already old.

Whatever the reason, I shave every morning. It’s part of my ritual, part of greeting the day, a way of “suiting up” for the game of daily life. And because I have OCD — and I’m vain — I like a nice, close shave.

Problem is, I have always been very frustrated by what’s on offer. Electric razors? Nah. Tried ‘em, but they never delivered the same result as a fresh blade. So I have been a Gillette customer for 30 years. Gillette Fusion and Fusion Proglide have been my go-to blades. Great products. Love the results. But I hate the price and I hate the process of buying these things. So the experience is far from perfect.

I’ve written more than one column to vent my frustration with this purchase experience. Gillette decided long ago to steal an idea from HP: charge a low price for the host device, but make refills really expensive. Once you have the device, you have to use the matching refills. So you’re trapped. For Gillette, it means a cheap razor, and blades that are almost worth their weight in gold. Great business model. Bad customer experience.

Because the blades are so expensive (about $30 for a pack of four, which lasts about a month), they are often sold from behind the counter to prevent what retail folks like to call “shrinkage,” or, what the rest of us call “theft.” The blades used to be out on the floor, but even then they were situated behind these Plexiglas flaps you had to open. Every time you opened the flap, an alarm would go off, so you’d feel like you were stealing even if you weren’t. Despite these deterrents, staff at my local Shoppers Drug Mart told me they once chased a guy down the street with several dozen packs of blades stuffed into his coat pockets. So they put the blades where customers couldn’t get them: in the back of the cash area.

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Imagine my delight when I saw a promoted tweet about a brand called Harry’s. Harry’s is an online provider of blades and razors that are of the same quality as the Fusion Proglide, but much cheaper. Instead of seven bucks a pop, these blades are under two bucks a pop. And not only are they cheaper, but Harry’s has done a magnificent job of visual branding.

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The unboxing experience is a joy in and of itself, almost as satisfying as the shave. The razor comes in a matchbox-within-a-pizza-box format. You open up the outer carton to reveal the matchbox within.

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The matchbox uses graphics to enhance the quality of the product: an image of the razor appears to “shave” a clean line through a grid pattern as you slide the box open, revealing the news that this product was designed in America and made in Germany.

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Next are the blades. I gleefully ordered four packs of four (who could resist when they are less than a third the price of Gillette?). The four sets come in their own box-within-a-box.

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Look closely at the construction of this little pack. A custom cartridge dispenser protects the blades. The attention to detail is exquisite, from the tiny-but-strong paper clasp on the left side to the carefully folded flap on the right. This little gem is a monument to the old saw, “God is in the details.”

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Compare this to the much less environmentally friendly Gillette package, a vacuum-formed Fort Knox that you can’t open without a knife or a pair of scissors. From the merchandising to the pricing to the packaging, Gillette makes its product really hard to get at.

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Harry’s, on the other hand, was a delight from start to finish. From the clever tweets about its decent pricing to the unboxing to the actual shave, every detail along the journey has been carefully considered and beautifully designed. This is a brand that delivers what it says it will and more. Instead of dreading having to order refills, I am actually looking forward to it. I know I am not only going to save money, but I won’t be made to feel like a thief while I do.

Gillette needs to learn lesson number one about brand experience: it’s all about how you makes your customers feel. And lesson number two, customized for Gillette: there’s nothing right about feeling like a thief when you’re the one being robbed. wn