Smart Consumer: Why top-price razors and their blades are a cut above the rest
Premium razors may give you a smooth shave -- but are they a rip-off in other ways? Top brands enjoy a mark-up of over 4,000%, according to Thisismoney.co.uk., a top consumer website
It claims a pack of eight Gillette Fusion Power blade cartridges costs under 40c to make and package -- but retails for €24.49.
Little wonder that these blades are officially the shoplifter's favourite and need to be sealed in cases with security tags in supermarkets.
Proctor and Gamble, which paid a whopping $57bn for Gillette in 2005, rejected Thisismoney's calculation, saying it omitted product development, transport, packaging, general expenses and marketing costs.
And Gillette certainly spends a lot on the latter, forking out a fortune for Tiger Woods, Thierry Henry and Roger Federer to all appear in the same ads.
A spokeswoman argued that the company needs to "earn a sufficient return to sustain our business" and that its products offer good value in terms of performance.
But are its customers happy to pay such a king's ransom for a packet of blades -- so it can continue to pull marketing stunts like giving David Beckham a diamond-encrusted razor on Father's Day?
Must it upgrade razors so often that consumers find it hard to get replacement blades for older models?
Why add more and more blades -- and apparently frivolous extras such as "vibrating" heads?
Do these things really make a difference -- or are they an excuse to get consumers to shell out more money?
Patrick Murphy went in search of answers to these questions as he put many popular makes to the test.
Gillette's Fusion Power -- a five-blader that gives "buzz cut" a new meaning (it vibrates as you shave) is "the perfect razor", he says.
"I felt like the hair was being 'hummed' off my face. It has a sonic buzz action that makes it slightly vibrate, and as you shave, it kind of 'slices' along the hair without the need to apply pressure."
Patrick gives Fusion Power full marks across four criteria which echoes its recent 77% rating in Which? magazine.
It costs €9 in Tesco, which is the cheapest of the premium models. But while your jaw may get as soft as a baby's behind, it will drop at the price of replacement blades -- €24.49 for a pack of 8.
Other best buys
Which? rates Wilkinson Sword's Quattro Titanium Precision as best for trimming facial hair and getting so close that you need fewer shaves.
Patrick is equally enthusiastic: "I love this razor. Apart from shaving closely, it has a clippers to trim your locks, and a suction cup holder to put it on the wall."
He gives it an eight out of 10 for looks and nine for shaving closeness and efficiency. At €12.84, the razor costs more than Gillette's premium models, but replacement blades are a lot cheaper, starting at just €1.59 for each blade.
Accordingly, it gets a five-star rating on value for money. (Also available in a vibrating model).
Mach 3 and Sensor are very similar products from Gillette. They're rated by Patrick and each scores 95pc. The Mach3 "is a very nice smooth shave -- understandably the best-selling razor in the in the market." And the Sensor? "This felt exactly the same as the Mach 3."
The Mach 3 has cheaper blades so it gets our best buy rating.
A cheaper option is the Tesco Matrix, which gets seven out of 10 for styling, closeness and skin-kindliness -- and an eight for efficiency.
"It was okay. There's nothing fancy about it but it doesn't handle like a quality razor." However, at 40c each, it shows how cheaply blade cartridges can be made and accordingly gets a thumbs-up on the basis of value for money
King of Shaves became the first British razor company since Wilkinson Sword became an overseas brand in 1978.
However, our tester didn't like it that much. "It felt like a toy in my hands. It looks cheap and wasn't 100% effective in cutting hairs," he says.
Lidl's version of an 'upmarket' razor -- G Bellini Perfect 3 -- is cheap but it didn't make Patrick cheerful. His verdict: "It's okay but I'm not a big fan. It pulled on the skin, caught the hairs and I had to repeat shave in some areas."
Patrick gives the highest marks for disposables (77pc) to the Extreme 3 Sensitive from Wilkinson Sword -- but with reservations.
"With aloe in the strip, this claims to be great for 'sensitive' skin', but I couldn't really feel a difference. And it's not as smooth as it makes out."
However, the best buy award for disposables goes to Tesco's fixed head razor, mainly due to its "throwaway price" of 12c each. Patrick says it is "surprisingly good. "It gives a nice close smooth shave, but it was a still a disposable at the end of the day. It was a bit fiddly to get it around the face due to its fixed head."
Razors for women
Www.beaut.ie rates Venus Divine as the top female razor. But it also points out that women's razors, which generally cost much more than men's, are often far less effective.
You are paying a hefty premium for a girly colour -- not a better blade. It tells the girls to buy certain men's razors such as the Fusion Power.
For all the moaning about the cost of blades, people are still prepared to shell out for the premium brands. The reason for this is that none of the truly cheap models could 'cut it' alongside the pricier top shavers.
Having said that, prices are extremely high and the cheap razor/dear blade trick is very annoying.
Wilkinson Sword's Quattro offers a solution as it costs a little more to buy but a lot less to run than Gillette models.
However, Gillette's Mach 3 and Sensors still offer a decent shave at a relatively reasonable cost. The Fusion Power is highly praised but comes at a grossly inflated price.
A best-of-both worlds option could be to get a top-quality razor and extend the lives of its blades by using a sharpener.
Available from www.4men.ie, the Danish-made RazorPit claims to enable 150 shaves from a single cartridge.