The Federal Trade Commission announced it would sue to block Proctor & Gamble’s purchase of razor and body care company Billie on December 8th, citing P&G’s existing dominance in the wet razor market. Billie originally launched in 2017 but has grown since, likely prompting P&G’s interest and the FTC’s concern.
Like Dollar Shave Club (but aimed more at women), Billie tried to pitch its razors as a cheaper direct-to-customer alternative to the pricier razors sold at retail. It proved successful, and investors were interested. But if P&G added Billie to its existing brands Gilette, Joy and Venus, it could have eliminated one of its fastest growing competitors, something the FTC feared would lead to consumers paying higher prices.
This isn’t the first time the FTC has stopped a razor acquisition. In February 2020 it sued to block Edgewell Personal Care from buying Harry’s Razors, with similar concerns over consolidation. All this recent antitrust action makes the billion dollars Unilever spent on Dollar Shave Club odd in retrospect, because the FTC at the time had no issue with it.
The FTC can try to unwind a deal if it changes its mind, though. Yesterday, the FTC announced its plans alongside 47 state attorney generals to sue Facebook in an attempt to unwind its purchase of both Instagram and WhatsApp. Facebook saw rapidly growing competitors in the social media and messaging spaces and chose to swallow them whole, before they could pose a real threat, like P&G might be trying to do with Billie.
Obviously, competition between companies offering free social media products looks very different from companies selling cheap razors.