22 May Philips and Oral-B Toothbrushes: Getting Long in the Tooth?
Personally, I see electric toothbrushes as unstylish.
Brushing teeth is fun, manually.
It’s just one part of my body helping another part live longer for the benefit of the whole body, with a simple silent brush. It’s a good workout for the hand and arm muscles. It’s organic, natural, and sustainable. It’s also a parenting ritual to teach kids about responsibility and delayed gratification through hard work.
On the other hand, an electric toothbrush is noisy, bulky, heavy, and cumbersome if a charger is needed. The charger-less ones are even more irresponsible, burdening the planet with more waste batteries and plastic. It makes it too easy for the kids, to the point that they want to pack a charger on a multi-night backpack camping trip!
Sure, there are research data showing higher effectiveness and efficiency of the electric toothbrush over the manual. Wait, have we checked the sponsors of the research projects?
If you agree that an electric toothbrush over-automates our lives, we can call it an example from the “Lazy Industry”.
For this blog, I’d be happy to keep my opinion to myself. However unstylish electric toothbrushes appear to me, they are coming in style in China, big time.
According to Yimian Data’s consumer category trend discovery tool, YiDrone, vendors on tmall.com sold 18m units of electric toothbrushes in 2018, for total revenue of CNY 3.3B (roughly $500m). That’s only one online platform, excluding jd.com, taobao.com, and other e-commerce outlets. The volume was almost the entire population of New York state. It more than doubled the numbers in 2017, comparing ~25% of year-on-year average growth of all tmall.com categories.
Coming into 2019, the first 4 months already saw a 2.4x growth comparing to the incredible 2018. Electric toothbrushes have brought in CNY 1.6B (~$230m), reaching half of 2018 level in one-third of the time.
(Monthly sales of electric toothbrushes on tmall.com, in CNY. Source: YiDrone of Yimian Data. )
Let’s take a closer look at the brands behind the growth.
In 2018, among the top-10 selling brands, Philips and Oral-B were No.1 and No.4. Collectively, they represented a market share of 33%.
In the first 4 months of 2019, the landscape has changed. Philips is still holding on to No.1, with the market share declining from 24% to 15%. Oral-B is surpassed by 3 Chinese domestic brands and placed at No.7, with the market share declining from 9% to 5%.
(Electric toothbrushes from Oral-B, source: tmall.com)
(Market share from 2018 to 2019. Source: Yimian analysis)
This duo has been the only global brands among top-10 in both years. This has been a pretty dramatic decline. Let’s assume that tmall data represent the average Chinese online consumer for electric toothbrushes. Among these consumers, one in three was holding a Philips or Oral-B product in 2018, and only one in five in 2019.
How aggressive are domestic brands? Take “Worms” as an example. Yes, that’s the real English brand name for a toothbrush. Worms sold only CNY 71m in the entire 2018; the same brand already achieved CNY 186m in 2019, climbing from No.9 to No.3.
(Cheek Slimmer from Worms, source: tmall.com)
Interestingly, the same brand also makes a gadget called “cheek slimmer”, a cheek-worn massager advertised to make one look less chubby, which helps lose cheek fat without going through the ordeal of physical workout.
Here we go, another example from the “Lazy Industry”.
Global brands like Philips and Oral-B will likely continue to lose ground to domestic brands unless they innovate faster in both new products and marketing. They need to put differentiating products on the Chinese table. Check out Dyson’s Airwrap brush. That’s different, fun, and harder for copycats to duplicate. In addition, they need to learn from their competition in social marketing tailored to China’s Generation 90’s and 00’s, such as leveraging short video platforms and social influencers.
As Chinese consumers continue to make lifestyle upgrades, both global and domestic brands have opportunities to grow.
Ok, let’s just assume for now that switching from a manual toothbrush to an electric one is indeed an “upgrade”.
If you are interested in the consumer trends of a certain category, please email me at zhangrong[at]yimian[dot]com[dot]cn.