A Marriott design team said it tested 52 brands when selecting new shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, and soap. Making a decision, they no doubt pondered smells, textures, national origin and eco-friendliness. I suspect they also cared about choosing products that conveyed the hotel’s identity. And, to see if we liked what we got, they checked to see which bottles we took with us when we left.
Where are we going? To what economists would say about Marriott’s new wall-mounted bottles for shampoo, conditioner and body wash.
New Shampoo Bottles
Each year, in each hotel room, there are roughly 1,000 partially full bottles that guests leave behind. Multiply that by the five million hotel rooms in the U.S. and you get a lot of waste. The hotels tell us the environment is harmed by so much discarded plastic. They might have added that they are losing lots of money.
With all of this in mind, Marriott is initially making the switch to wall-mounted dispensers in 450 of its North American hotels. By January, the total could be 1500 hotels and (they say) 34.5 million fewer bottles.
The hotels tell us that they have studied bottle behavior (really). They claim that many of us dislike the small print on little containers, We dread leaving the shower to grab the bottle we forgot on the sink. And there is always the regret we experience from sending a bottle cap down the drain.
As you might expect, not everyone is happy about the change. One traveler said the opaque bottle prevents staff from knowing if it’s empty. He also cited a study on the bacteria that accumulate on public soap dispensers. Another individual felt that shared containers were just plain “low class.”
These are the new wall-mounted dispensers:
Our Bottom Line: Thinking at the Margin
Rather than exploring a hotel’s amenities, our real goal is to see how we think at the margin. Defined as something extra, the margin is where we make our decisions about how much more. Awakening after seven hours of sleep, we have to decide whether to sleep a bit longer. Having done just a two-mile run, we might consider continuing.
As you can see, the decisions we make depend on where the margin is located.
And that returns us to Marriott. Certainly, the margin motivated their decision to change the dispensers in their hotel rooms. Similarly, it will change the extra amounts that their guests use when they too think at the margin.
My sources and more: Thanks to Scott McCartney at WSJ’s Middle Seat for alerting me to hotel room amenity changes. From there, it was interesting to read in Slate why products are chosen and why this person disliked those opaque wall-mounted dispensers. However, if you just want one podcast and one article, do listen to the Alfred Marshall discussion of the margin in Timothy Taylor’s Legacies of Great Economists and do read the Alfred Marshall chapter in New Ideas From Dead Economists.