razor-blade-business-model

What Is the Razor and Blade Business Model? Apple’s Reversed Razor and Blade Strategy

The razor and blade business model is a strategy that relies on selling what is supposed to be the primary product at a low price or given away for free; while complementary goods get sold at high margins. For instance, Gillette’s razor would cost a few bucks. Instead, a set of blades will be 3-4 times more expensive.

Razor and reverse razor and blade business model

The razor & blade business model implies that a company doesn’t make money on the primary products.

Instead, it makes money, at high margins, on the complementary, ancillary products and services, which are usually perishable or have a high turnover, therefore, generating a continuous income stream for the razor and blade business model player. 

There is a reverse strategy, called reversed razor and blade business model. Where instead, the company uses ancillary products/services, mostly sold for free, or at a very low cost for the customers. 

These ancillary products and services make the main product way more attractive, thus, enabling the company to raise the price of the main product, and stay competitive. 

Companies like Apple, follow this variation of the razor and blade business model, called reverse razor and blade where the core product (the iPhone) is sold at a wide premium, and the ancillary products/services (apps) are mostly free, or inexpensive. 

Apple and the reversed razor and blade business model

If you ever bought an iPhone, you’re aware of the fact that it can cost as much as a computer.

In fact, Apple rather than decrease its prices over time actually uses the opposite strategy. In fact, the latest confirmation of this strategy comes from the iPhone X, which has an even higher margin compared to the iPhone 8.

As reported by reuters.com:

The iPhone X smartphone costs $357.50 to make and sells for $999, giving it a gross margin of 64 percent, according to TechInsights, a firm that tears down technology devices and analyzes the parts inside. The iPhone 8 sells for $699 and has a gross margin of 59 percent.

In short, In this case, the iPhone is the blade. What is the razor then? That is the iTunes or the set of digital products Apple made available through its store.

In fact, when Apple launched iTunes, a CD would cost anywhere between $16 and $18. Today you can get an album for $9.99 or 99 cents per song.

In fact, as reported by billboard.com:

Steve Jobs “said to us, ‘There’re two things you have to accept: 99 cents for every single song, and every song has to be sold as a single.’ And we went home and swallowed hard because that was tough for us to accept for us as a music industry…. If certain songs were really popular we should be able to set the price at whatever we thought was the right price as opposed to the $1 price. Steve said, ‘You know, you’ve got to keep it simple, you’ve got to keep it clean.’”

By Thomas Hesse: President, Corporate Development and New Businesses, Chief Digital Officer at Bertelsmann. He was Chief Strategy Officer for BMG Music Entertainment when the iTunes Music Store launched.

how-much-profit-does-apple-make-per-iphone
It costs Apple $501 to make an iPhone 14 Pro Max, and the company sells it at a base price of $1099. This makes Apple’s base markup on the latest iPhone model at 119% Apple is the only tech company able to sell its tech products at a such a premium, thanks to a combination of hardware, software and marketplace.

 

apple-business-model
Apple has a business model that is divided into products and services. Apple generated over $394 billion in revenues in 2022, of which $205.5 came from iPhone sales, $40 billion came from Mac sales, over $41 billion came from accessories and wearables (AirPods, Apple TV, Apple Watch, Beats products, HomePod, iPod touch, and accessories), $29.3 billion came from iPad sales, and $78.13 billion came from services.

As you can see above, Apple’s iPhone is still the most important revenue generator for the company, making up over 52% of the company’s sales in 2021. 

And it has also substantially contributed to Apple’s growth in the last couple of years. 

apple-business-growth
iPhone and Services sales represented the main revenue drivers in 2022. Within the service revenues, the fastest growing sub-segment was the advertising business Apple built on top of the App Store, followed by the Mac, Accessories & Wearables, and the iPad.

Thanks to the fact that the functionalities and wealth of apps, available on the App Store, mostly for free, make the hardware, the iPhone way more interesting to consumers. 

Thus, enabling the company to sell it at a wide premium. 

Apple has also been leveraging indirect distribution channels to amplify the sales of iPhones further.

apple-distribution-strategy
In 2022, most of Apple’s sales (62%) came from indirect channels (comprising third-party cellular networks, wholesalers/retailers, and resellers). These channels are critical for sales amplification, scale, and subsidies (to enable the iPhone to be purchased by many people). In comparison, the direct channel represented 38% of the total revenues. Stores are critical for customer experience, enabling the service business, and branding at scale.

Understanding the razor-blade business model

razor-blade-business-model
The razor blade business model, also known as the razor-razorblade model, involves selling a product at a lower price to then selling a related product later for a profit. The razor and blade business model has been popularized by King C. Gillette, founder of the safety razor company Gillette, which sold a durable razor at cost while selling disposable blades at a premium.

The razor blade business model, also known as the razor-razorblade model, involves selling a product at a lower price to then selling a related product later for a profit. The razor and blade business model has been popularized by King C. Gillette, founder of the safety razor company Gillette, which sold a durable razor at cost while selling disposable blades at a premium.

The razor blade business model describes the strategic positioning of one product as free or complimentary to boost sales of a dependent product that generates revenue.

The model is often attributed to King C. Gillette, founder of the safety razor company Gillette. The entrepreneur reasoned that if he could sell consumers a durable razor handle for very little, he could sell the disposable replacement blades at a premium price. 

The company reaped the rewards of Gillette’s strategy since the expensive blades needed to be replaced constantly. What’s more, the consumer had no choice but to purchase them as they were the only blades that were compatible with the razor handle. The strategy was such a success that current owner Proctor & Gamble continues to use it today.

The razor-blade business model intends to avoid competition by offering a free or low-cost product in the first instance – even if the business must incur a loss. Once customer loyalty has been attained, the company has an easier time selling them more profitable products.

Note that the razor-blade model is similar to the freemium model, where digital products and services are offered for free under the expectation that a consumer will pay for features at some future point.

Companies utilizing the razor-blade business model

Aside from razor blades themselves, there are many other brands in different industries utilizing this business model.

Let’s take a look at a few of these below:

  1. Keurig – the company sells a range of single-serve coffee makers, with some available for less than $100. Where Keurig makes money is in the sale of coffee pods, with a 6-pack alone retailing for around $20. 
  2. Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony – these companies have almost always sold their video game consoles at close to cost price or less. The razor-blade model is prevalent in the industry because consoles require hardware updates and price cuts to ensure they remain relevant over long periods. The “blade” in this case is the video game itself. 
  3. Hewlett Packard – HP has a wide range of printers, with some of the cheapest retailing for around the same cost as an ink refill. The company is counting on its customers having to constantly replace the toner cartridges to make money

Potential limitations of the razor-blade business model

The benefits of the razor-blade business model for businesses are well stated. But there do also exist some limitations:

  • Environmental costs – some companies using the model have been criticized for the amount of waste they generate. In today’s world, businesses are expected to be environmental stewards and those that are seen to be destructive will lose customers to their competitors. Coffee pod brands were banned in some workplaces because their compositional mix of plastic, metal and coffee grounds made them impossible to recycle.
  • Brand resentment – some consumers also become resentful of the company for effectively forcing them to use a certain product. This feeling may be exacerbated by prices the consumer considers too expensive. For example, many consumers are bemused by the fact that the price of ink is comparable to the price of a printer.
  • Outlay risk – brands who implement the razor-blade model always run the risk that they will not recoup their initial costs. If the business is heavily subsidizing the initial product, poor sales in the premium product may result in an overall loss.
  • Competition – when a company sells its premium product with a higher margin, a competitor can offer the same product for less without incurring the expenses associated with developing the free or low-cost product.

What is the reverse razor blade model?

The reverse razor blade model involves a business attracting consumers with a premium product and then selling them less expensive products over time.

Understanding the reverse razor blade model

As the name may suggest, the reverse razor blade model is an inversion of the razor and blade business model made popular by The Gillette Company.

Like its namesake, the reverse razor blade model has a consumable and dependent product. However, unlike its namesake, the business offers the dependent product at a premium price and the consumable product at a price that is lower or more convenient. In most cases, the dependent product is durable which allows the consumer to utilize the consumable product(s) over a longer period.

Apple was an early proponent of the reverse razor blade model, selling its iPod as the dependent product and songs from the iTunes store as the consumable product. Similarly, consumers who purchase an Apple Mac receive access to the Mac operating system and office software free of charge. To some extent, the reverse approach helps Apple offset its expensive products and the fact that the company rarely offers discounts.

Amazon is another company that utilizes the reverse razor blade model, selling its Kindle e-readers to give consumers access to a vast library of book titles.

Advantages and disadvantages of the reverse razor blade model

Let’s now take a look at some of the pros and cons of this business model.

Advantages

  • Customer retention – the reverse razor blade model tends to increase customer retention because a user willing to invest a large amount of money upfront is more likely to stay with the company for longer. This phenomenon, where a person is reluctant to abandon a course of action if a large investment has been made, is known as the sunk-cost fallacy. Furthermore, consumers who purchase expensive products may also be brand advocates that will stick with the company regardless of price.
  • Minimal risk – in the standard razor and blade model, the company often makes a loss on the dependent product and relies on the more expensive consumable to boost revenue. In the reverse model, the company makes an initial profit on the dependent product and is less reliant on sales of the consumable.

Disadvantages

  • Prohibitive cost – the cost of purchasing a premium product upfront may be prohibitive for consumers. Some may not be able to afford the product, while others may be reluctant to purchase the product before they have full access to its features.
  • Brand exposure – a consequence of prohibitive cost is reduced brand exposure. When consumers are effectively priced out of the market, there is no scope for the business to build relationships with them.

Key takeaways:

  • The razor blade business model also known as the razor-razorblade model, involves selling a product at a lower price to then sell a related product later for a profit.
  • The razor blade business model has been used by brands such as Keurig, Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony, and Hewlett Packard.
  • The razor blade business model endeavors to reduce competition and enable consumers to try a product at a low cost before turning them into repeat buyers. However, the model has been associated with environmental concerns and brand resentment. There is also the risk that the premium product becomes unprofitable or a new competitor emerges. 
  • The reverse razor blade model involves a business attracting consumers with a premium product and then selling them less expensive products over time.
  • Apple was an early proponent of the reverse razor blade model, selling the iPod as the dependent product and songs from the iTunes store as the consumable product. Amazon does the same with the Kindle e-reader, which affords consumers access to a vast library of inexpensive e-books.
  • The reverse razor blade model improves customer retention and is a less risky approach than the standard razor and blade strategy. However, the cost may be prohibitive for some consumers and as a result, brand exposure may also be reduced.

Connected Business Model Types

Asymmetric Business Models

asymmetric-business-models
In an asymmetric business model, the organization doesn’t monetize the user directly, but it leverages the data users provide coupled with technology, thus have a key customer pay to sustain the core asset. For example, Google makes money by leveraging users’ data, combined with its algorithms sold to advertisers for visibility.

Attention Merchant Business Model

attention-business-models-compared
In an asymmetric business model, the organization doesn’t monetize the user directly, but it leverages the data users provide coupled with technology, thus having a key customer pay to sustain the core asset. For example, Google makes money by leveraging users’ data, combined with its algorithms sold to advertisers for visibility. This is how attention merchants make monetize their business models.

Marketplace Business Models

marketplace-business-models
A marketplace is a platform where buyers and sellers interact and transact. The platform acts as a marketplace that will generate revenues in fees from one or all the parties involved in the transaction. Usually, marketplaces can be classified in several ways, like those selling services vs. products or those connecting buyers and sellers at B2B, B2C, or C2C level. And those marketplaces connecting two core players, or more.

Wholesale Business Model

wholesale-business-model
The wholesale model is a selling model where wholesalers sell their products in bulk to a retailer at a discounted price. The retailer then on-sells the products to consumers at a higher price. In the wholesale model, a wholesaler sells products in bulk to retail outlets for onward sale. Occasionally, the wholesaler sells direct to the consumer, with supermarket giant Costco the most obvious example.

Retail Business Model

retail-business-model
A retail business model follows a direct-to-consumer approach, also called B2C, where the company sells directly to final customers a processed/finished product. This implies a business model that is mostly local-based, it carries higher margins, but also higher costs and distribution risks.

B2B2C

b2b2c
A B2B2C is a particular kind of business model where a company, rather than accessing the consumer market directly, it does that via another business. Yet the final consumers will recognize the brand or the service provided by the B2B2C. The company offering the service might gain direct access to consumers over time.

Crowdsourcing Business Model

crowdsourcing
The term “crowdsourcing” was first coined by Wired Magazine editor Jeff Howe in a 2006 article titled Rise of Crowdsourcing. Though the practice has existed in some form or another for centuries, it rose to prominence when eCommerce, social media, and smartphone culture began to emerge. Crowdsourcing is the act of obtaining knowledge, goods, services, or opinions from a group of people. These people submit information via social media, smartphone apps, or dedicated crowdsourcing platforms.

Open-Core Business Model

open-core
While the term has been coined by Andrew Lampitt, open-core is an evolution of open-source. Where a core part of the software/platform is offered for free, while on top of it are built premium features or add-ons, which get monetized by the corporation who developed the software/platform. An example of the GitLab open core model, where the hosted service is free and open, while the software is closed.

Open Source vs. Freemium

open-source-business-model
Open source is licensed and usually developed and maintained by a community of independent developers. While the freemium is developed in-house. Thus the freemium give the company that developed it, full control over its distribution. In an open-source model, the for-profit company has to distribute its premium version per its open-source licensing model.

Freemium Business Model

freemium-business-model
The freemium – unless the whole organization is aligned around it – is a growth strategy rather than a business model. A free service is provided to a majority of users, while a small percentage of those users convert into paying customers through the sales funnel. Free users will help spread the brand through word of mouth.

Freeterprise Business Model

freeterprise-business-model
A freeterprise is a combination of free and enterprise where free professional accounts are driven into the funnel through the free product. As the opportunity is identified the company assigns the free account to a salesperson within the organization (inside sales or fields sales) to convert that into a B2B/enterprise account.

Franchising Business Model

franchained-business-model
In a franchained business model (a short-term chain, long-term franchise) model, the company deliberately launched its operations by keeping tight ownership on the main assets, while those are established, thus choosing a chain model. Once operations are running and established, the company divests its ownership and opts instead for a franchising model.

Other handpicked related business models: 

Other business models patterns: 

Leave a Reply

Scroll to Top
FourWeekMBA