Shampoo Wars: Bottles to Dispensers

For years, one of the sure things about any hotel has been the abundance of leftover shampoo and conditioner you will have when leaving. The small plastic bottles, which have been provided to travelers throughout the U.S. in various hotels for years, may be going away.
According to the Wall Street Journal, wall-mounted bulk dispensers are now being considered by some hotels as an effort to decrease plastic usage and save money.
Brands such as Marriott and InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) have already committed to the wall-mount dispenser system. Marriott will switch in 450 of its hotels across five different brands, expanding to 1,500 hotels in North America by January, and IHG will roll them out at four different brands later this year.
With 1,000 small bottles for every hotel room, and there being roughly 5 million hotel rooms across the U.S. alone, it is no surprise to see brands looking for alternative ways to save money and resources.
At the 450 initial properties Marriott is switching out of, they use 10.3 million small bottles per year, or 113,000 pounds of plastic. By the time they switch out of the 1,500 planned hotels, they will save 34.5 million bottles, or 375,000 pounds of plastic per year. At year end, Marriott will save around $2,000 per hotel.
Despite the cost savings and reduced environmental impact, not all brands are jumping on board the dispenser train.
Choice Hotels, which has 6,800 franchised hotels, will not be making the switch out of small bottles. The customer feedback has been mixed, with guests stating they do not believe the dispensers are clean, full, or well-maintained.
The evidence of guests seeing other people have been in the room is a turn off to some of the members of Choice Hotels’ customer base, according to their VP of Brand Management Anne Smith.
Wyndham Hotel Group, which also sends their leftovers to Clean the World for recycling, has incorporated small bottles into their members experience and will not be switching. In fact, they have increased their bottle size from 30 to 50 milliliters in order to increase their guest experience and satisfaction.
Noelle Nicolai, Wyndham’s marketing lead, believes bath products, “if done right, can be one of the top drivers of delight and guest satisfaction.”
With small bottles having a specified, unique role in the Wyndham customer experience, removing the bottles would not align with their guest strategy. Guests of Wyndham understand the bottles are a part of the experience, by removing the bottles, Wyndham is removing a product that members are loyal to.
“I think the challenge is understanding exactly what the customer wants and being able to address it,” says Loyalty360 CEO Mark Johnson. “For the high-end traveler, as goofy as it sounds there is some ‘prestige’ in having the bottle of soap, shampoo, etc. to be able to ‘gift’ use at home, or when the in-laws stay over, you can adorn their ‘room’ with the accoutrements.
“There is a great opportunity for the newer boutique brands/companies to position the move away from the bottles to a more ‘responsible’ stewardship of the environment,” adds Johnson. “Yet they should not do that if there is not alignment, and brands need to be cautioned in this regard as they need to be as authentic as possible in their efforts. We speak with many brands [not necessarily hotels] who are looking at CSR, yet they need to make sure they have alignment.”
Evan Magliocca, Brand Marketing Manager for Baesman Insights and Marketing, agrees that there’s a need to understand the customer’s wants, and making changes without fully understanding what those needs are creates a risk of alienation.
“With any initiative that impacts the customer experience, brands are always trying to find strategies that are mutually beneficial, and dispensers may be one-sided for the brand and excluding the customer’s mindset,” says Magliocca. “Dispensers still have a negative connotation and have an uphill battle to be brand positive, meanwhile the small 30 milliliter bottles frustrate customers with limited product. Wyndham Hotel Group has seemingly found the best of both worlds—they’ve increased their bottle size to reduce total product units while also giving customers more product and easing one of the overwhelming frustrations for travelers.”
Lou Ranery, CEO of east|west Marketing Group, adds that if any change is made—whether it benefits the corporation or not—the focus must first remain on the customer.
“On the corporate side, the switch from small individual bottles to dispensers will likely not be consistent across the hospitality industry,” says Ranery. “While annual expenses may be reduced, many lower cost/lower margin hotel companies will not wish to undertake the associated capital costs. Guest acceptance to conversion should be fairly high even among affluent travelers—think of similar dispenser experiences at private clubs. Positioning will be important, rather than this is solely for the environment—a minority of travelers opt for reusing towels—the communication should be how the guest will benefit (i.e. easy-to-read labels, known shampoo and bath brands, larger quantity of products, etc).”

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