Electric toothbrush sales increase as prices decay

by Mie Sakamoto

Sales of electric toothbrushes are booming in Japan following a significant decline in product prices.

Sales of battery-powered toothbrushes are expected to surge fivefold this business year, and those of rechargeable models 1.5 times, according to industry estimates.

The brisk demand is attributed to the introduction of low-priced products, with some retailing for less than 1,000 yen, down sharply from the 10,000 yen or more seen previously.

With their prices lowered, electric toothbrushes are now sold at supermarkets, drugstores and convenience stores.

In the past, the toothbrushes were available only at electrical appliance stores, with most buyers being men in their 20s and 30s, Procter & Gamble spokesman Noriyuki Endo said.

In April, P&G launched products with unchangeable brushes and which run on dry cell batteries at a price of 798 yen. They are sold at supermarkets and convenience stores.

The move pushed Gillette Japan Inc. later in the month to launch battery-operated toothbrushes with replaceable brushes for 1,980 yen.

“Electric toothbrushes with advanced features are now available at reasonable prices,” a Gillette Japan spokeswoman said.

Manufacturers came up with various ideas for their toothbrushes, but the technology is basically the same as that used in electric shavers.

To set themselves apart, Matsushita Electric Works Ltd.’s products use sound wave vibration produced by a linear motor to remove plaque, while Gillette Japan’s rechargeable toothbrushes use simultaneous high-speed vertical and horizontal movements.

While the low-priced toothbrushes are becoming more popular, high-priced rechargeable toothbrushes that cost about 10,000 yen to 18,000 yen are still in steady demand.

Electric toothbrush sales of Matsushita Electric Works, which makes only higher-end products, jumped 1.7-fold in August from a year earlier, company spokesman Hitoshi Ogawa said. But the company did not disclose the number of units sold.

The Gillette Japan spokeswoman said her company expects low-priced electric toothbrushes to serve as an introduction to more expensive ones.

“We expect that the prevalence of relatively low-priced electric toothbrushes will lead people who use manual toothbrushes to start buying electric toothbrushes, revitalizing the market,” said Mariko Takizawa, product manager of the marketing division of Gillette Japan. “We expect the trend will continue from now on.”

But some companies are skeptical about selling cheaper electric toothbrushes.

“We have no plans to sell low-priced electric toothbrushes,” Matsushita Electric Works’ Ogawa said. “In supermarkets and convenience stores, low-priced electric toothbrushes are popular, but in household appliance stores, high-priced ones dominate, with about a 90 percent market share.”.

Currently, electric toothbrushes comprise 10 percent of the Japanese market, but companies expect the portion to grow.

P&G’s Endo said the company is focusing on low-end products and is not planning to sell high-priced electric toothbrushes in the immediate future.

He insisted that the company is not competing against electric toothbrush makers for market share.

“Rather than competing within the market, we consider it more important to get more manual toothbrush users to switch to electric toothbrushes by selling quality toothbrushes at comfortable prices,” Endo said.