See Ma, No Hands

Here’s a quick product review.

You wouldn’t be reading this if you were fortunate enough to live a secluded life in the hills, which means you’ve most likely visited a reasonably-priced restaurant around. And you have probably noticed how the wash basins usually have water all around the tap/ faucet. Throw in some people who turn taps/faucets with soaped-up hands, or with food covered hands; and just washing your hands there suddenly becomes something of a daring act.

That being the case, and given that most eateries and homes at best have a press-the-pump type soap dispenser, Dettol, a household name in India, had a great business opportunity with a no-touch soap dispenser. Here’s what they did with it.

Dettol Auto Soap Dispenser #1

Dettol Auto Soap Dispenser #2

A big flaw with the design, beyond the drab form. The battery compartment placed right at the bottom, with a thin cover that has a slight gap in it. Now, if only women walked the earth, this wouldn’t have been a problem considering how careful and tidy most women are. At least the ones I’ve known. But with us guys around, it’s another story. Me for one, even after just washing my face I usually look like I got hosed down. And I’m the least of Dettol’s concerns.

Every few days, the dispenser at home either stops working, or dispenses four times repeatedly. That calls for wiping it dry, including the batteries and the compartment. Find me a restaurant or home who’s basin area is always dry enough to keep such a dispenser and not have water seep in. All the fancy hotels will be using fancier units anyway.

Let’s look at pricing. Given the potential customer base, filled with wet basin areas, they could have easily taken a shot at replacing  existing push-type dispensers, bars of soap and even soaps hanging from the wall by a rope [yes, you’re life’s incomplete if you haven’t used one of those] with an aggressively priced product. However, at INR 450 a piece, it is a little steep for the value shopper. It gets worse. The liquid is much thinner than most other brands, and the two variant choices you get smell between not good and horrible.

And finally, price of refills. A single refillbottle (250ml) sells at supermarkets at INR 150 (strangely INR 99 on some sites online). Compare that with a thicker and better smelling refill by another leading brand which sells at INR 140 for a 900ml pack, that is quite a difference. And you can’t use any other liquid soap in this one due to the way the refill has been designed. Which means, you have to pay premium to continue using this dispenser.

What Dettol could have done instead to get a bigger bite of the market:

  • Designed a better/ sleeker looking dispenser
  • Competitively priced base unit, aimed at making it a compelling option to replace bars of soap and push-type dispensers
  • Battery compartment placed higher up without causing the unit to get top-heavy
  • Used a thicker consistency liquid
  • Made it possible to refill with any standard available brands
  • Offered competitively priced refill liquids in 1-2 standard/bulk quantity options with at least 3-4 good fragrance variants

It’s one thing to attempt to shift the existing market with a quick first move that’s just ‘ok’, quite another to delight on your first shot. By the time you come around for a second pass, it might just be too late.

[1/5] For just dispensing a sad smelling liquid soap, and for disappointing on design, ease of use, pricing, and on refills.

0 thoughts on “See Ma, No Hands

  1. I second your thoughts buddy…I would not buy this thing because my middle-class mentality does not allow me to buy a soap dispenser for 450 bucks…i had rather use my Lifebuoy which allows me to put anything inside it…

    1. Thanks for the comment, buddy. And it’s the same factors most of us think about before buying. Apart from having a product ready, I was hoping they’d have done some work to understand the requirements of the people they are targeting. The same no-hands solution could have done wonders for them, and for potential customers.

  2. Thanks for ‘liking’ my last few posts, Angie. Really appreciate it.! Do you blog too? I looked around, but couldn’t find a blog. Do let me know if you have one.

    Thanks for the ‘like’, Florence.!

  3. Make an attractive gimmick. If it clicks well and good. If not get in the moolah before the yen dies out.
    Make the container relatively cheap, and make the refills the revenue booster (eg glucometers which are often given free and you pay for the test strips. )
    I guess the consumer will always have to view his options

    1. Thanks for the comment Jimmy.! Yes, the base unit could be made cheaper, not too cheap though. It is an automatic dispenser after all. But at the same time, they should have created a buzz.! Also, the refills can’t be too expensive, since the consumer then has a tendency to consider shifting back to a previous option. It’s a tricky business..

  4. A poor attempt at the Gillette strategy. To do do it right, you need to make a combo of dispenser and refill that costs a very small premium (say Rs 100) over the cost of a refill alone. You continue selling the refill at a premium over the market, but you’ve got to differentiate the refill significantly (sensory cues with “technology”). That way people get hooked on at a small entry cost and stick around generating high revenue for a long, long time.
    Oh! and you gotta over-engineer the dispenser. People need to wanna use the product for a long, long time.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Yell.! True, they really have to over-engineer it. Wont be long before the battery contacts act up, moisture fries the circuit? As goes the Gillette strategy, Dettol folk probably took a bit from it, a bit from elsewhere, and now have a mess on their hands. Not sure how Gillette’s faring with their extremely low cost razors and insanely priced blades (started with the Sensors way back, moving Mach 3, to the Fusion, which one could use as a combine harvester when they’re not shaving).
      The printer industry did just that, selling printers way below cost, recovering on cartridges. But even that seems to have come to price wars now, with people becoming more demanding, cos focusing on increasing pages/cartridge, lower priced cartridges, etc. Canon, HP, all. Thing is, Gillette glamourized their products, and of course there were the multiple blades doing a better job, etc. But when you’re talking soap, unless the damn unit’s washing your hands for you, there’s little for Dettol or anyone else to offer other than affordability and great variants of the liquid itself. They could have germ-killing, smells-like-Evangeline Lilly’s-smile, who knows). But without that, they’re just pushing blanks, hands-free.

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