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Navigating the consumer battlefield of the sexes

Even in 2016, gender gaps continue, especially in the realm of product pricing, employer dress-codes and pay gaps fueling discussions at Boardroom and dining tables.

That PwC has come under fire for enforcing a ‘high heeled’ policy with its temp provider Portico demonstrates how corporates still need to get with the times.  Even major British retailers Boots, Tesco and Argos are facing reputational risks for their pricing of products based on gender.

As a Washington Post article aptly puts it, “you should always buy the men’s version of almost anything”.  Whether Walgreens’ blue box of Schick Hydro 5 cartridges for $14.99, compared to its feminine equivalent, Schick Hydro Silk ($18.49), or Target’s Radio Flyer scooters for boys ($24.99) and girls ($49.99), gender pricing is evident across a wide range of product categories and all stages of your lifespan.

Gender pricing is nothing new, highlighted in the 1990s when California became the first US state to prohibit gender discrimination in pricing in law.  Though they persist as the recent investigation by The Times reveals hundreds of products targeting women cost more than their male equivalents.

Another recent study from New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs also reveals that on average, women’s products in the United States cost 7% more than their male counterparts.  While this number seems rather low compared to the 37% price discrepancy The Times identified in the United Kingdom, the fact remains that women’s products cost more than the male equivalent 42% of the time.

Development Economics suggests gender pricing results from risk pricing, different costs of service provisions, willingness to pay, negotiation skills and information asymmetries.  However you slice it, this assessment outlines that companies are eager and willing to capitalise on consumer price elasticities based on gender to maximize profits which, predictably, is resulting in increased awareness in our age of social media and a higher focus on corporate reputations.

Gender pricing is a question of transparency.  Of all the major retailers named in The Times investigation, Boots responded quickly to attempt a rebuild of its damaged reputation by changing the prices on affected products.

Although one would think that in 2016 the issue of gender inequality was being tackled across the board, it seems to be just as present as ever. Whether tampon taxes, gender pricing or corporate dress codes, gender-based policies continue to earn column inches.

For companies to successfully navigate this minefield, they must focus on their purpose, cultures and value they place on consumers of all types.  Over time, the costs of discrimination will prove ever more unaffordable.

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