Cultural inertia and startup costs

This article (h/t to Marginal Revolution) asks why Japanese style toilets ("washlets") haven't spread to the U.S. Most people in the U.S. know these as bidets. Steve Scheer, President of toilet startup Brondell, has his thoughts on why Americans haven't switched over to this superior cleansing technology:

“For Americans here in the US, the biggest issues are personal experience with these products and a major reluctance to discuss bathroom issues or change ingrained habits. You wouldn’t imagine how many people giggle nervously or say “gross” when we try to educate them about the advantages of the bidet seat, yet these are the same people that are still using paper – a much inferior way to cleanse oneself.”

We have a family gift exchange every Christmas, and one year I was assigned my dad. I asked what he wanted, and he and my stepmom combined to ask for one of these aftermarket toilet washlet seats that they could attach to their existing toilet. It cost about $400, and they still use and love it. Logically, you can't argue with the results. I've had to babysit and change a few babies in my day, and it's always funny to think about how much more meticulous we are about cleaning baby butts than adult ones. It's rare to downgrade our results on such daily processes as we shift from infant life to adulthood, but that's just what's happened on this front.

Two big obstacles exist. One, which Scheer hints at, is the cultural inertia. Plenty of superior technologies and habits, like eating habits, are ingrained by exposure during childhood. As another example, the Segway always seemed to me doomed by the simple fact that people looked so ridiculous riding them. If we'd all grown up riding those around, who knows?

But a second obstacle, as with the Segway, is the startup cost. Products that promise to save you money in the long run but cost you more up front always are a hard sell to consumers who cannot help but blanch at a big single payment.

Scheer probably knows this, but he'd have a better shot at getting his products installed by default in apartment complexes, much like DVR's took off after they switched from being stand-alone boxes to ones that came directly from cable and satellite providers.

In the meantime, there's always this hybrid technology with nearly universal acclaim among customers that can be had with much lower startup costs.