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Gender pricing and how women pay more than men.
Should a pink razor or a purple pen cost more than a blue razor or black pen? Logic dictates it shouldn’t, but in some cases, it does. Known as the “pink tax” or gender-based pricing, it means women end up paying thousands of dollars more for goods and services than men — from deodorant to cologne to haircuts to dry cleaning.
In economics, companies are always trying to get the highest price for a product from customers willing to pay that price. But in these cases, companies are also exploiting stereotypes we have in society, said Sarah Kaplan, a professor of strategic management at the Rotman School of Management.
“With the new awareness, people don’t want their gender stereotypes exploited for profit,” she said. “But I also think it’s so embedded that change is going to really require businesses to rethink themselves.”
A study in December by New York City’s department of consumer affairs examined the prices of 800 products, with clear male and female versions from 90 brands, in more than two dozen retailers. It found, on average, products for women cost 7 per cent more than similar products for men. In addition, across the entire sample, women’s products were priced higher 42 per cent of the time.
One of the most surprising items was a little red scooter that was advertised at $24.99, while a little pink scooter was selling for $49.99. The retailer Target quickly lowered the price, blaming the discrepancy on what it called a system error.
“I don’t think you’ll see two scooters with two different prices — that gets outted pretty quickly,” said June Cotte, a marketing professor at the Ivey School of Business. “It’s very public.” “But what you will still (find) — and it won’t take long to find — (are) gendered products that are arguably not exactly the same thing, but they are the same. And they will be different prices,” she said, pointing to razors as the classic example, where pink or turquoise ones, aimed at women, are more expensive.
Marketers are using “segmentation appeal,” with the view if the consumer feels a certain emotion or has a favourable reaction to a particular product, there is a willingness to pay extra, said Cotte.
“Let’s say I’m a dainty woman, and I see something designed for a smaller hand or smaller ear, such as earphones, and it says, designed for a woman. I could feel that resonates with me,” she said. “But you have to step back and think, aren’t there smaller men or bigger women?”
Kaplan said companies are getting trickier about disguising differences, so direct comparisons are harder to make. For example, women’s and men’s deodorant might be priced at the same amount, but the woman’s size is slightly smaller.
She added it is difficult for governments to legislate because manufacturers will make small feature changes and argue they are not the same product, such as adding a suction cup to a woman’s razor.
The Star visited a number of retailers last week — and looked for items that were priced differently.
At Canadian Tire, children’s gardening gloves with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles logo sold for $6.99 compared with purple gloves with the sisters from Frozen at $7.99.
“We don’t price our products based on gender,” said Stephanie Nadalin, a Canadian Tire spokesperson, in an email. “The cost differential between the two gardening gloves you purchased can be attributed to the different licensing fees in the cost base of each product.”
At Shoppers Drug Mart, a two-pack Bic For Her ball pens sold for $5.49, compared to a two-pack Bic Velocity ball pens for $2.99.
Jill Johnson, a Bic spokesperson in Connecticut, said retailers ultimately determine the in-store retail price of all Bic products. Shoppers declined to comment, saying it was an industry issue, referring questions to the Retail Council of Canada, which couldn’t be reached.
Johnson noted in an email that the two products are not the same, with different features to explain the price differential. She added the Bic for Her pens are premium-priced writing instruments, given “unique jewelled accents, embossed metal nose cones and clips, and barrel designs,” while the Velocity pens do not have those features.
For more than two decades, Joanne Thomas Yaccato of the Thomas Yaccato Group has been complaining about price differences on goods, but said legislation won’t work because it’s nearly impossible to regulate.
“If a giant sophisticated manufacturer like Bic thinks it’s OK to put out a pink pen and charge more, it says something about the consumer culture,” she said. “If this situation was reversed, with men being charged more, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today,” she said. But there’s no clear-cut path to eliminate it, other than having consumers push for change, she said.
Many women are already buying men’s razors and using them instead, refusing to buy women’s razors. The Dollar Shave Club, an online website, sells razors that don’t distinguish on gender, attracting both sexes, said Kaplan.
The Star found no variations on certain products aimed at both men and women — such as soap, shampoo, and vitamins. Spiderman and Barbie bandages had the same prices as did girl and boy bicycles, backpacks, PJs, and even pink and blue hockey tape.
“That’s great. This is something that manufacturers and marketers can change immediately,” said Christine Whelan, a consumer science professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
“Perhaps, there was bad enough press, which is great. This is the idea of raising awareness and fight for equality,” she said.
Her argument is that women should fight the pink tax, by voting with their wallets.
“That’s the clearest message that we can send . . . choose the products that work for us, that fits best in our budget,” she said, adding these value decisions can send a message to children, about considering why one item of a certain colour costs more. “Now that we are talking about the pink tax, we should challenge consumers to think about their values around money. Does the colour matter?” Whelan said. “Or if you love that pink razor, then go buy it. I’m advocating for the conscious consumer.”