The dishonorable appalling phenomenon, “gender price gap”, has received extraordinary attention and criticism recently from the consumers worldwide. Although this act is engrained in the society since long time but the consumers, especially women consumers, were subconscious about the reality. The phenomenon gained popularity when NYC’s Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) revealed (or say reemphasized) after comparing almost 800 products for more than 90 brands that women’s version of products are tagged with higher price labels. This gender pricing disparity is entrenched not only in retailing sectors but also in labor-intensive services such as dry cleaning and car maintenance, and even in health care services for senior women.
DCA made various other revelations:
- Women’s products cost more 42% of the time while men’s products cost more 18% of the time.
- Women pay 7% more for toys and accessories, 4% more for children’s clothing, 8% more for adult clothing, 13% more for personal care products, and 8% more for senior/home health care products
What’s more interesting to me was when they further concluded
“….these higher prices are mostly unavoidable for women”.
Why women consumers are burdened with paying more and getting ripped off? Is it because retailers and other service providers consider women richer or paid higher than their male counterpart (which is not true in majority of real world scenarios and that’s another insult to injury from gender gap issues), or is there any other factor contributing to bolster the abysmal phenomenon. Well, many sources – the retailers, manufacturers, tariff tax department and everyone who inflict the bigoted pricing strategies – definitely owe an explanation (or probably many) to women consumers.
Lets drill down into the situation:
Who decides the pricing of a product? What is the strategy behind it?
This is one of the most elaborated and complex topics to be discussed. There is nothing like one-size-fits-all technique. Theoretically, there are different shades which impact the pricing strategies: Marketing Strategy (analyzing market, segmentation, positioning, etc.); Analyzing Environmental Factors (competitor analysis, legal constraints etc.); Pricing Objective (market penetration, market share, profit maximization, etc.); Estimating Demand Curve (analyzing how varying prices impact demands); and then Determining Price by using all other accumulated information. The pricing strategies are devised not only with help of those objective criteria but also with subjective criteria such as the psychological impact of branding of a product, the buying behavior of consumers, respond of a market, etc.
In essence, there are not only manufacturers, retailers, salesman, accountants, and pricing theories involved in tagging products but also consumers themselves play a pivotal role there.
How women were/are targeted to be ripped off using those pricing strategies?
When the industries experts got themselves on-board, they performed all the tasks mentioned in earlier section. On detailed analysis, they found women consumers one of their soft targets.
- Multiple studies and surveys reported that women contribute to 70-80% of all consumers. The cherry on the top is that they are also the primary buyer or the influential source of shopping. They shop for themselves, kids, spouses, parents, friends, relatives, and sometimes just-for-that.
- Unlike men, women are impulsive buyer. Meaning, when they like a product, they stick to it. Market experts tried various permutations & combinations to gauge the demand elasticity. They observed that little variation in price, increasing price, did not deter women consumers buying the same product, whereas, doing so impacted the demand from male consumers. Increasing the price little more still did not sway them. Experts founded their formula – price fluctuation does not impact the demand from women consumers.
- Women have predilection to aesthetic appeal – product’s packaging, fragrance, color, print etc. – matter them more. Men are comparatively less bothered about such matters.
That’s how the retailers started targeting and capitalizing on (exploiting) the women consumers. Paint it pink, add some fragrance, throw some flowery print over there, or better print some Disney characters on the products. Women will die to lose their purse’s strings. Increase the price, rip them off! Voila!
What explanations do the retailers and service providers have to offer in their defense?
You will get to hear a number of justifications, some rational and some immensely ludicrous, from some retail giants. Some common responses received are:
“Women are willing to pay higher than men”
Hello, who said “women are” ? Nobody asked me whether I would prefer a higher priced product. And why should I? There is a stark difference between ‘obligation to pay’ and ‘willingness to pay’. It might be a simple plot of demand elasticity.
“We don’t have machines to dry clean women’s clothing”
I watched a revealing video from the CBS News which exhumed the gender price gap in dry cleaning services. Dry cleaners claimed that there is no machine available so far which could press and tackle women’s dresses or shirts simply because these dresses vary in shapes & sizes. Reasonable yet ludicrous! So, are they telling that in this innovative, entrepreneurially growing world, the manufactures couldn’t come up with a machine which could manage women’s dresses? I see two things here; first – a great business idea, and second – women, you are seriously complicated, including your clothing.
“More labor is required in women’s styling”
This generally came from the labor-intensive services, such as hair salons and beauty parlors. None would argue about the effort required for a woman’s hair-cutting vs a man’s hair-cutting. And the effort required is directly proportional to the charge imposed. We totally get it.
“The same products with male and female versions are not entirely same. The products for women have different packaging, added fragrance, and probably different formula.”
Yes, we see that difference. Women’s products are embellished with glitters. But the question whether these extra perks deserve to make the product reasonably different in terms of price remains a territory of government and investigation bodies. On surface, I personally don’t think that these proclaimed differences deserve to be paid higher.
“It’s all about maximizing profit”
This is profoundly convincing and sincere explanation from business point of view. As discussed earlier, their insanely contrived pricing strategies leaded them to believe that women consumers are their profit making resources.
What could be done by the industries to resolve the issue?
Is there anything that could be done by the providers to bridge this price gap without making them lose their profit?
Devise a good-faith strategy: Along with all decision makers, devise some price strategy which is fair to all the consumer segments. Even the theory of marketing and pricing strategies do not allow exploiting a particular segment of consumer. Profit maximization is not equivalent to “profiteering”.
Offer discounts: Come up with more discounts, coupons, and offers for the women’s version products in order to assuage the discomfort.
Price comparison tools: There should be more easy-to-navigate price comparison tools or websites available which could display the price for a product across different stores and price for the similar products, including male and female versions. This would help in building transparency in pricing system.
Government authorities should intervene: Although there are scenarios which cannot be validated and justified whether the pricing strategies are legal or illegal, but certainly more efforts could be put in order to define a boundary line between a strategy and a gambit. They also need to redefine their gender specific tariff and import taxes.
What steps could be taken by the women consumers to save their sanity?
When DCA itself concluded that this appalling phenomenon is going to stay, nothing could be more threatening to women consumers. If government cannot help and retailers cannot change then you are the one who has to take action because you are the sole owner of your purse.
Stop shopping, start buying: This saying tries to awaken women consumers that you need to change you attitude and be more cognizant about your purchases. You should be more aggressive in your buying approach. Do not fall for cute girlish dazzling things if they cost you significantly higher than the regular looking things which also serve the same purpose. What’s the big deal with the color pink, flower print, and Disney characters? There is no need to get obsessed with these attractions. These are just glitters and serve no better purpose. If the same razor, toy, or car in pink costing me more than the blue one, then from now on blue is my new pink.
Explore some better deals: Do not let go of any deal(s) if it can save you significant amount of bucks. Take help of store assistants, advertisements, online deals, etc.
Would you mind trying male version of a product: What would happen if a girl rides a blue scooter or carry a non-flowery print bag? Wherever possible (again, I am not saying for everything), try getting a male-version of a product. Compare the price difference between the male and female version and go for the right one – I mean the cheaper one.
Be a cognizant and aggressive buyer. Change the mindset of manipulative retailers, let them not exploit your buying behavior and tweak you with their price-demand maneuvers.
Avoid the “pink tax” – remove the gender price gap!!
Shweta Kumari Sharma
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