Shakespeare famously wrote that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” but that poetic sentiment doesn’t quite translate when it comes to dissimilar prices on similar products. For the most part, customers don’t want to feel like superficial differences to a product, like color, are being used to jack up the number on the price tag, and when new evidence comes out that some retailers are doing just that to about 50 percent of consumers out there, it’s hard to avoid the exact kind of negative PR corporate brands hate.
According to a recent report commissioned by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) and conducted by Commissioner Julie Menin, the retail phenomenon of the “pink tax” — whereby products stereotypically gendered female are dramatically marked up over their male-oriented equivalents — is very real and still very prevalent. Menin and colleagues investigated the pricing strategies of more than 800 identifiably gendered items (i.e., shaving products, toys) sold both online and locally by over 90 brands and 24 retailers in the NYC metropolitan area, and the DCA ultimately found that products targeted at female buyers cost an average of 7 percent more than the same male-centered items.
In fact, only one industry sat below the average: Girls’ clothing — with 4 percent higher prices than boys’ — exhibited the most equal cost parity. However, with the exception of toys and accessories (7 percent higher), every other category exhibited higher-than-average prices for female-oriented items, including adult clothing (8 percent), senior and home health care (8 percent) and personal care (13 percent).
While the DCA’s study doesn’t confirm anything female shoppers already know to be fact, it does codify the cost of gender in the wider market — one that many experts see as intricately connected and not always in the best ways.
“The most basic consumer right is one and the same with the most basic civil right: You should not be treated differently based on your gender, and that includes how much you’re charged,” Menin said in a statement. “In New York City, businesses can set their own prices, but it is DCA’s job to make sure that a consumer knows what that price is. That is why we have conducted this study, to educate consumers about the disparities so they can make the most educated shopping choices. We also encourage all New Yorkers to join us in calling on retailers to change their pricing practices.”
NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio echoed the vague call to pressure retailers into more conscientious pricing habits, but not even the Internet’s new obsession of social media-inspired flavor-of-the-month boycotts are likely to rehabilitate an entire industry’s penchant for squeezing extra pennies out of consumers’ wallets for whatever reason. That’s why Menin called on consumers to educate themselves to be able to look past the branding, the pink coat of paint and other gendered markers that unscrupulous retailers are more than willing to hoodwink shoppers with.
Choice, an Australian-based consumer advocacy group, took that advice a step further. Instead of urging women to be content with hunting through their own overpriced sections for equitable deals, a Choice spokesperson told ABC News that female shoppers shouldn’t hesitate to walk over to the men’s aisle in search of the same, yet lower priced products found in theirs.
“During the peak retail season, retailers love to create hype to whip consumers into a spending frenzy. So, it pays to research your purchases and take your time to look when shopping,” the Choice spokesperson said. “Ultimately, your best defense against the pink tax is to look past the pink products and seek out the best value on offer, which may well be in the men’s department.”