Laundry Detergent: Irrelevant if it’s as Good as the Last

Photo by Andy Fitzsimon on Unsplash

I had just used my last cup of laundry detergent. I had also just returned home from running in a Spartan Race, which was basically a five-mile, extremely muddy obstacle course. My mud-caked tennis shoes sat outside in the grass, after I’d attempted to spray them off with the hose to no avail. I had a problem. I threw the bottle of laundry detergent in the recycling bin and set out for Walmart.

My friends and I muddied-up post Spartan Race. Photo by Mitch Van Den Eynde

I headed to the laundry detergent aisle. I embarrassingly go to Walmart about once a week, so I knew where to go. I ducked through the food aisles, narrowly avoiding picking up some ice cream that was on sale, and made it to the back aisles where cleaning supplies were kept. It seems a little too convenient that I have to navigate through the entire store, passing snacks, desserts, and the candy aisle before making it to the essential household items.

I faced a shelf far taller than me of detergent options. I gravitated towards Tide, which I somewhat remembered having purchased last time, but I wasn’t positive. It also happened to simply be the first major brand in the aisle. I double-checked the prices to make sure it wasn’t more expensive than other brand names I recognized. I noticed cheaper brands, but I didn’t recognize any of the brand names. I focused on the popular brands, since I knew I’d used them before and that they worked effectively. The price of Tide seemed on-par, so I narrowed in.

I then had the ever-present inner-debate: pods or liquid. My roommate has the pods, and they do seem convenient. However, I’m a bit of traditionalist, and since I started doing my laundry in 4th grade or so, before pods even existed, I’ve always stuck to liquid. However, I picked up a little bag of the pods to inspect. The bag held 16 pods. I quickly calculated the price per pod on my phone. I looked at the smallest liquid bottle’s price, calculating the price per load for the liquid. The few cent per load difference between the pods and the liquid seemed to make a difference for me. Further, I was worried one pod wouldn’t cut it for my Spartan Race shoes, so I retired the pods to the shelf. Maybe I’d try them out next time.

The detergent I settled on. Photo by Sonia Schrager

I then considered the various bottle sizes of Tide liquid detergent. I spent a few minutes inspecting each bottle, trying to determine how many loads of laundry each could be used for. This number was surprisingly hard to find on a number of the bottles. I counted up how many more weeks I’d be in Chapel Hill before summer break, figuring I’d need to do one to two loads of laundry a week. I added an extra load or two to account for my Spartan Race shoes. After arriving at my likely laundry load number, I picked the bottle that most closely matched it. I reasoned that while it is probably cheaper to purchase a larger bottle, laundry detergent wasn’t something I wanted to be hauling around post-graduation.

I brought the bottle to the self-checkout line at the front of the store. The barcode was challenging to find, but of course I reasoned that self-checkout was still faster than letting the experts at the regular checkout lines deal with it. I returned home and grabbed my soaking wet tennis shoes from outside. I dropped them in the laundry machine, added a beach towel to absorb the noise of the shoes rumbling around, and dumped in a whole cup of my new Tide detergent. Half an hour or so later, I pulled my shoes from the washer. They were just as clean as they would have been if I’d used my old detergent, which is exactly what I’d expected.

Looking back on this experience, it presents an interesting key consumer insight. When purchasing and using laundry detergent, my only key expectation is that it works just as well as what I’d been using previously. I obviously didn’t want it to be a worse product, but I wasn’t looking for a superior product. I was simply hoping to purchase a detergent that cleaned my shoes just as well as the last one I’d purchased. In fact, I didn’t even remember what brand the last detergent was, and I likely won’t remember that this bottle was Tide when I go to Walmart for the next bottle. I thought of many laundry detergent brands as a “regular guy” archetype. As we discussed in class, the “regular guy” is down-to-earth, supportive, and “the person next door,” as described by in The Business Owner’s Playbook. That’s how I thought about laundry detergent. In fact, I wasn’t actually thinking about laundry detergent unless it wasn’t doing its job.

Photo by Kristopher Roller on StockSnap

As a result of this insight, I have a few suggestions that Tide, or other detergent brands, could utilize to improve the 4 P’s of their products.

  • Product: The packaging of the detergent could use a few tweaks to help detergent-buyers like me. Primarily, Tide should make the number of laundry loads that can be done with one bottle more prominent on the bottle. This was a significant decision factor for me, and I experienced trouble locating the number on numerous bottles. Secondly, the barcode was also difficult to find on the bottle. Making this easier to locate would help shoppers like me, who want to get through the self-checkout line quickly. Since laundry detergent is the type of item many shoppers want to quickly drop into Walmart or the grocery store to pick up, anything to help speed up these shoppers’ experience will be seen as helpful.
  • Place: As I mentioned, I had to traverse through all of Walmart to get to the cleaning supplies section. While this works in Walmart’s favor, since I’m more likely to pick up unneeded items on my way, it doesn’t work in Tide’s favor. By the time I reach the detergent section, I’m generally ready to do a speedy analysis of my options, grab whatever seems adequate, and head to the checkout line. Striking a deal with Walmart or other stores to display Tide products more prominently, even if it’s just on the end cap of the detergent aisle, would draw my attention to Tide products specifically and make my shopping experience easier.
  • Price: Tide seems to push its pods heavily, but for me, the 25–50 cent difference per load between the pods and the liquid was a deal breaker. If Tide wants to sell more pods, it should lower the price of the pods slightly. A 10–20 cent difference in price per load would seem reasonable to me based on the increased convenience of the pod. I’d be more likely to try the pods out if they were slightly less expensive. However, at the current price, I’m not willing to stray from what I know works, which is the liquid detergent.
  • Promotion: Tide has a few promotion options that stem from the key consumer insight I pointed out above. Tide could promote itself to consumers as the detergent that gets the job done quickly and as well as the consumers expect it to. I often tune out laundry detergent promotions and commercials because they seem to boast about the detergent’s most innovative features, none of which I particularly care about. I simply want a detergent that cleans my clothes effectively, so marketing Tide’s detergent as such would speak to consumers like me. Similarly, as I mentioned above, price was a significant factor for me when deciding between brands I recognized. I wasn’t willing to purchase a brand I didn’t recognize because I didn’t trust it would work as well, but I wasn’t willing to pay more for one well-known brand over another. A sale or buy-one-get-one deal would easily sway me to one brand instead of another. I gravitated towards Tide because I vaguely remembered the packaging and assumed it was what I’d purchased last time, so if a brand won me over through a sale or deal, I may be likely to purchase it again the next time if it proves to be just as effective as another brand.

After analyzing my experience purchasing and using Tide laundry detergent, I realized that laundry detergent is the type of product consumers don’t think about unless it’ not doing its job well. This led to the key insight that consumers look for something that works just as well as their last detergent. As a result of this insight, my suggestions for Tide can be implemented to improve the brand’s 4 P’s in the eyes of consumers like me.