We Tried Dollar Shave Club, Harry’s and Gillette—One Was Clearly the Best

From left to right, Gillette, Dollar Shave Club and Harry's offerings.

From left to right, Gillette, Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s offerings.

I hate shaving.

Between a general dislike for hygienic chores, a coarse beard and sensitive skin, shaving is the worst of my life’s ablutions. Generally, I just don’t. My face could do with a daily shave, but instead I seldom get the razors out even twice per week. Sometimes I let it grow until people tell me they like my beard. It’s not a beard. I’m just lazy. So lazy, in fact, that I have a beard trimmer so that I can quickly rein it back into something more like a two-day stubble instead of actually just shaving, because I don’t like walking around for the next half-day feeling as though I’ve been slapped multiple times, which is how shaving makes my skin feel.

Among the facets of shaving I have hated most: buying razor cartridges at CVS for my Gillette MachWhatever, because their prices always struck me as unbelievable. “That much? For this little box? How can that be?” I would think.

In the company’s defense, however, I remember 1998 when it introduced the Mach3, the first big three-blade razor system. Prior to that, I’d been using double-blade razor cartridges, and (as stupid as this sounds), the three-blade cartridge really was better. The company gets silly with its gimmicks, but its basic products work well. The Mach3 cut through this jungle on my face more smoothly, causing less pain (it still hurts) and fewer nicks (I still always get nicks). Schick one-upped them with the Quattro five years later, but I wasn’t into it because it clogged up fast. When the five-blade Gillette Fusion came out, someone sent me a free handle with a sample cartridge, and it seemed marginally better than three blades.

But a pack of eight Fusion cartridges on Amazon runs around $30, which feels like about $15 too much. It’s worse at the drug store, where I got my razors. In the urban east, cartridges are so dear that many stores keep them under some sort of security system. The New York Times wrote about the razor cartridge hustle this past weekend, recommending an old timey safety razor over store-bought cartridge systems. It rightly points out that buying one $30 blade holder that takes single standard razor blades can save consumers a lot of money over their shaving lives. Plus, cartridges are wasteful.

All true.

However, in light of the fact that Dollar Shave Club sold to Unilever for a billion dollars earlier this summer, it’s a bit of disservice to consumers that the story didn’t even address the direct-to-consumer subscription model, in which razor cartridges skip retail stores and cost much less. As it happens, the Observer had already been working on trying out three different mail order razor services when this weekend’s piece ran, so we’ll add what it missed.

One of the three shave clubs was clearly the best.

circa 1934: Janet Gaynor (1906 - 1984) is shaving Charles Farrell in the musical film 'Change Of Heart', directed by Albert S Rogell for Republic.

This is more trust than I have ever had.


The company had its own bit of news this summer, when it announced a partnership with Target that would put its products into stores, including an intro kit for $5.

Harry’s was the clear loser in this roundup for me. I got their free trial set, which has a handle, one razor, a little travel thing to put over the razor and their shave foam.

The company left a lot to be desired on the customer service end. First, my trial package went to the wrong place. This could have been my fault, but I don’t think it was. I always get things shipped to my office (in Manhattan), though my billing address is in Brooklyn. Apparently my trial box went to my Manhattan street address in Brooklyn, but when the mail returned it, Harry’s staff didn’t contact me. Instead, I got an email saying that I was about to have my first month’s shipment sent.

So then I replied saying that my trial had never even come. That’s when I learned about the SNAFU. I suspect that the error wasn’t my fault, because when they sent me a notice about reshipping my trial box, the address again directed it to an address that does not exist in Brooklyn. I caught it, they didn’t.

I wasn’t impressed. Also, on their website, it doesn’t just say what a single shipment will cost. It says you get eight cartridges for $1.87 each. I had to log into their website and jump through a variety of hoops to get the number any rational human being would want: it’s $15 per shipment (not $14.96, which is what the math works out to). It’s $27 with 13.5 oz of shave foam.

As for the shave: their five-blade system felt cheap. The Harry’s handle is plastic and super light. I disliked the foam (I dislike shave foam in general—ignore me if you dislike shave gels). The shave was fine, I guess, but it was a lousy experience overall.

22nd October 1965: Hair stylist Joan Barrett shaves the head of actor David Freed, the last of the actors to be prepared for playing 'Teknix' in a Dr Who television special.

The notion of what makes a shave club has really shifted with time.

Gillette Shave Club

Late last year, Gillette sued Dollar Shave Club over a patent, no doubt seeing a threat in the insurgent.

So now Gillette has answered these direct-to-consumer consumer competitors with a nearly O.K. deal through subscriptions online, where it offers plans on three different razor systems. I ordered one shipment’s worth of the middle plan, which came with their latest handle, four Fusion five-blade cartridges and a big can of their foamy gel. It cost $23.95 before tax.

Compared to the other two services on this list, the price is insane.

That said, I have to admit it probably is the best shave. The thing I especially like about it is that it actually has a sixth blade, on the end, that’s great for getting those frustrating little whiskers around your nose. Everything about the system is well-constructed and solid. Is that worth paying more than four times the price for very nearly the same product from a competitor? That’s your call.

We tried a bunch of ‘Wine of the Month’ clubs, too

In fairness, its Mach3 plan, I should mention, works out to something like $17.50 per 5-cartridge shipment, which is competitive with Harry’s 5-blade price.

Their gel foam was not quite as bad as Harry’s, but it still foams up and I don’t like it.

Also, Gillette has many of the same customer service issues as Harry’s. Its three different shave plans don’t list the flat price per shipment, they list the per blade price. So get out your calculators if you want to know. In fact, unlike Harry’s, even after some clicking around I couldn’t find it. I also can’t figure out how to cancel my subscription. I have cancelled so many shipments that my next one is scheduled for August of next year, but there’s nothing on here that says anything about turning it off.

I gave up and emailed them to cancel. That worked. Harry’s, by the way, was easy enough to cancel.

8th July 1944: RAF ground staff wash and shave at tin basins after a day's work refitting Spitfire aircraft at their squadron's camp.

The heyday of foamy shaving.

Dollar Shave Club

Disclosure: when I was assigned this story, I had already been a DSC subscriber for more than four years, converted after watching their incredible viral video. This video is so good that I just watched it again and laughed for the umpteenth time when DSC’s founder shouts, “Lookin’ good, pop-pop!” I remember the days when the company would email members about tiny new developments, like when they bought a super fast shipping label printer. In other words, I have a bit of relationship with the brand.

Early on, DSC made a big deal out of the fact that it offers blades for $1 per month. I have always kind of suspected that this tier was a bit of a red herring, that few actually pick their $1 twin blade plan but that “razors for $1 per month” made for great marketing. That said, their $6 plan gives you a pack of four four-blade razors. That’s what I have always used. In fact, when I got it monthly, it was more blades than I needed for my infrequent shaving, and they started stacking up. I bought an extra handle and my lady friend starting using them for her own shaving.

These days, I use their “baby face” plan, which sends me a shipment every other month. It’s nice that they have thought enough about customer service to realize that a lot of their users don’t need very many packs.

DSC has released a number of other new products along the way that members can add to their monthly shipments à la carte. I have tried many of them. Most of them I can live without, but there are two I really like. First, their “Dr. Carver’s Daily Shave Butter” is a gel that really does seem to soften my scraggly beard up better than any other whisker lubricant I have found. It also doesn’t pointlessly foam up. At $8 per bottle, it’s comparable to the Alba Botanical Shave Gel that I otherwise favor, but it is just enough better that I buy a few bottles each year. Weirdly, I got my first Dr. Carver’s bottle free via Klout a few years ago (before I worked in journalism), but I liked it.

Second, their Big Cloud Daily Moisturizer has an SPF of 25, which is good. I like to use sunscreen daily. DSC’s uses one good ingredient and one bad one (zinc is good; octinoxate is bad) to provide that protection, which in my mind makes it less bad than the sunscreens that rely wholly on bad ingredients. Sadly, the Environmental Working Group left it out of their annual sunscreen guide (yes, I think a lot about sunscreen).

Since everyone runs out of razors before they run out of shave gel, DSC doesn’t force shaving lubricant into your first shipment.

The four-blade shave is good. The cartridges really only make it through a couple shaves for me most of the time, but for as often as I shave, that’s fine. I do wish their four-blade cartridge had that edging thing that Gillette has, but their six-blade system, The Executive, does, so I just switched to that (this is the first time I’ve really thought about my relationship to DSC for a while).

Its prices are all clear and unambiguous, none of this “cartridges only $2.17 each” nonsense. It shows a flat monthly price for each shipment in a plan or each product, and it’s all round numbers.

In my experience, their customer service is top notch. For example, when I moved to New York from Philadelphia, I never updated my address and then just didn’t notice for months because I had plenty of razors stacked up. When I finally realized the problem they just refunded all my old shipments that had gone to my old address and got me straight again.

June 1935: Members of the 26th Armoured Car Company of the Territorial Army shaving during a camp in Cayton Bay.

What do you say, gentlemen?

Verdict: Dollar Shave Club

So, in my opinion, there is no contest here: on price and service, DSC clearly wins. Harry’s costs more for less quality (but it does have a magazine). I am soon going to try DSC’s top line razor and see how it holds up against Gillette’s. My guess is that Gillette’s is still a bit higher quality overall, but that still doesn’t justify their crazy prices. All I really want is that edging blade, anyway.

I also have never tried an old-timey safety razor, such as the Merkur safety razor, that The Times suggested. I suspect that a single-blade system wouldn’t work as well on my beard. This guy has a thick beard too, and in a YouTube demo he argues that one single horror movie blade shaves better than our modern plastic and steel multiblade systems. I would feel good about contributing less junk to landfills. I also doubt the all stainless steel Merkur’s fastenings would shatter to pieces if I dropped it, as both DSC’s and Gillette’s have.  So maybe I should try it?

For now, though, I’ll be sticking with DSC. Their most expensive plan costs much less than Gillette’s cheapest. Let’s just hope that the company’s attention to detail and prices don’t change dramatically now that it has joined a major corporation.