The other day I went to my local CVS to buy some new razor blades and shaving cream. I was a bit surprised that they had their blades behind some sort of mechanized dispenser, but decided that it was probably meant to prevent theft of these expensive thingies. After picking up my blades and shaving cream I realized that the dispenser had triggered a store-wide message on the PA system saying something like “customer assistance in the shaving department…customer assistance in the shaving department…customer assistance in the shaving department…”. Now I did not need any assistance – I knew exactly what I wanted. I proceeded to the cash register with the PA continuing to blare its annoying message causing people to look at me strangely since I was the only walking around with shaving paraphernalia. It made me feel as if I had done something wrong – a real crappy buying experience. After standing in line for a little while one of the store employees spotted me as the guy who had triggered that alarm – and told me that I had bought the wrong shaving cream. I looked at my cream, the one I always buy, and told her that this is what I wanted. She argued that the razor blades I had bought, which were the Gillette Mach III, around for more than a decade, required a different type of shaving cream. With everyone in the store staring at me, I decided to follow the annoying lady back to the shaving aisle, where she pointed me to the “right” shaving cream, one that I do not like because it clogs up my blades 3 times as fast. So I told her that I did not like that cream – at which point she lifted her shoulders, as if I were one of those pathetic losers, and declared that I would then have to pay for them. That is when I realized that this was one of those good old 20th century bundling deals from Gillette. I tried to confirm with my helper – “so you mean this one if free if I buy it with the blades?”, but she had already given up on me and walked away.
But that’s what it was – a good old product bundle. One where one of the products, the real cheap one, would cause the other, the real expensive one, to become obsolete about 3 times as fast as with the other shaving cream, which btw also happened to be from Gillette.
We live in an age of unbundling – the customer wants and is expecting best of breed product choices, not just proprietary product suites. Technology companies have learned how to cope with it (well most of them anyway), restaurants in food-courts have learned how to deal with it, and just about any industry that has seen unbundling happen has found renewed growth and new business opportunities.Product bundling is not a good marketing practice anymore – especially when it is meant to move more crappy products that cannot succeed on the their own through the supply chain!
Gillette – please take note… and CVS, leave me alone if I do not ask for help – please!