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April 16, 2018

I’VE NOTICED THIS, TOO: Demand for Batteries Is Shrinking, Yet Prices Keep On Going and Going… Up.

Batteries on average cost 8.2% more than a year ago, while prices in the overall household-care segment rose only 1.8%, according to Nielsen. At a time when prices are stagnating on everything from toilet paper to diapers, such pricing power for a product that is increasingly obsolete has confounded shoppers.

“As far as the prices go, you don’t have a choice,” said Samuel Hurly, a contractor from Mount Vernon, N.Y., as he scanned a Home Depot display of AAA batteries to power flashlights he uses on the job. Batteries ordered online take too long to arrive, Mr. Hurly said, and he finds cheaper, private-label options lose power too quickly.

Battery prices were more likely to fluctuate a few years ago, when Duracell was owned by consumer-products giant Procter & Gamble Co. and Energizer was part of Edgewell Personal Care Co. Those companies were more focused on their bigger, more profitable razor businesses—Edgewell with Schick and P&G with Gillette. They would invest less in batteries, or slash prices to drive up volume, to compensate for weak sales in other units, said SunTrust analyst Bill Chappell.

Energizer Holdings Inc. spun off from Edgewell in 2015, and Duracell broke apart from P&G a year later when it was acquired by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Both businesses have become more profit-focused since separating from their previous owners.

It’s been my experience that the no-name (or AmazonBasics) brands aren’t that much cheaper, and also don’t last as long. Still, the Energizer/Duracell duopoly looks ripe for disruption.