Does the pink tax always make it more expensive to buy products intended for women?
A row of multivitamins perch on a supermarket shelf. The price tags indicate that all the products are on sale, except for the one presented in a pink colored bottle.
It’s a sight all too familiar to some women, who say they pay a “pink tax” – a higher price for products aimed at women.
Stuff travel journalist Juliette Sivertsen was shopping at New World Victoria Park in Auckland on Sunday and was frustrated to see that Health by Habit vitamins were all $4 off – except for women’s multivitamins.
“I ended up buying another multi from the same brand, just because it was on sale,” she said.
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“I mean, maybe the sell sign has fallen? Who knows… but it definitely affected my buying decision.
A Foodstuffs spokesperson said there was no “pink tax” on the products.
“It’s just that different products are on sale at different times and when you walked in to take your picture, men’s multivitamins happened to be on sale.”
A few weeks ago, women’s multivitamins were on sale, but men’s were not, she said.
“Our category team looked, and the products are the same price, and they’ve been on sale an equal number of times over the past 12 months.”
While Foodstuffs says Sivertsen’s example is just one case of a shopping visit missing a special, research has found that women who feel they’re paying more may well be right.
In 1994, California banned “gender-specific pricing” and found that women were paying over $1,200 in fees and additional fees each year.
A 2015 New York study found that women’s products cost 7% more than similar men’s products.
Michelle Duff and Kirsty Johnston/STUFF
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A University of Otago review found that girls’ uniforms were often more expensive than boys’. And in 2016, a study found that women paid more for private label toiletries and clothes in major UK supermarkets – with women paying an average of £1.54 (NZ$2.96) more for a basket of goods than men.
Styles searched online for prices at 15 salons in Wellington and found that 14 salons had gender-specific prices. A men’s cut and style averaged $38 less.
Last year, Vivo hair salons changed their pricing from traditional women’s and men’s pricing to gender-neutral pricing across all of its 90 salons.
At Countdown this week, gender neutral Bic disposable razors were $8.50 for a pack of 20, or 43c each, while Bic disposable ‘women’s razors’ were only available as a double pack for $3.70 , or 70c each.
Co-founder of Straightface Luke McMeeken-Ruscoe, a unique razor for men and women, said he noticed companies trying to separate consumers from money by making products that are slightly different but work exactly the same way.
“The most powerful thing we do every day is vote with our wallet”
He said there was no difference in blades or razors for men and women.
“The razor blades are the same. There are no razors for men or razors for women, they are just sharp steel on the skin.
Andrew Murphy, a lecturer in marketing at Massey University, said there are three ways to justify price differences by manufacturers or retailers.
If a product was specialized or enhanced for women, it could cost more to develop. He said it was possible but probably a minor factor.
A product aimed at a niche audience could also be more expensive, he said. Or it could just be the market price. “Women are willing to pay more for something that is better suited to function, design or branding.”
Marketing expert Angela Meyer said women often pay more, even though they earn less.
“Brands are smart, if there’s a chance to make more money by renaming something or making it specific to an audience, they’ll do it,” she said.
“In addition, it is believed that women are ready to pay more than men. Women are responsible for 80% of all purchasing decisions, and we are often seen as spenders, not savers.
“Women also have different pressures around appearance in certain ways and we find that clothing, hygiene and personal health products are consistently more expensive for women, although there is no underlying economic rationale such as higher production costs for goods. Pink is not a girl’s color. It’s just a color! A color that costs women more.”