Should being a woman cost more? How gendered pricing can hurt your business

Posted on Mar 8th, 2016 | News and opinion

Nobody enjoys a price hike. From concert venues extorting £10 drinks from their captive audiences, to Martin Shkreli’s infamous 5,000% drug price increase, hiking up prices just because you can is unfair to customers, and often ends up disproportionately impacting a specific group. Every small business has to make a profit, and structuring your pricing fairly is an important part of that process.

What does this disproportionate impact look like in practice? A recent study by The Times found that some businesses charged 37% more for products marketed towards women which had identical male counterparts. Put simply, the manufacturers charged women more for the same product – just because they could.

Along with the tampon tax and gender pay gap, it seems that women are being overcharged and underpaid across the board. Do we as women need to be more aware of these cunning marketing ploys? Or do businesses just need to cut the nonsense and realise that gender-specific products and pricing plays no part in 2016?

Bic; c’est chic?

Already known for getting themselves in hot water by marketing a selection of “for her” pens with the slogan “Look like a girl, act like a lady, think like a man, work like a boss”, French company Bic seem reluctant to learn their lesson. Bic were selling their pink Classic Lady one-blade razor at £1 more than the standard gender-neutral orange one-blade razor across retailers in the UK.

Another guilty party comes in the form of sports behemoth Nike. Starting price for a women’s football boot? £125. The male equivalent? A mere £29.99. And it’s not just UK women that are being hit hard by gendered pricing – a New York study of over 800 product lines found that, on average, women were charged 7% more than for a similar “male” product. Belinda Phipps, chair of feminist campaign group the Fawcett Society, says:

“Gendered products are just a way of extracting more cash from you, it seems.”

Top tip for businesses? Price hiking or specifically selling products at different prices is not an okay way to increase your revenue. Not only are you guilty of discrimination, but word of mouth is a huge marketing tool nowadays, and chances are someone will find out they paid more for a certain product meaning disgruntled customers. Price yourself according to the market, and price yourself fairly for all genders.

The genderless revolution has already begun, and products marketed to specific sexes are even being phased out in the sector where they are most prominent – children’s toys.

Egg on their faces

Kinder Surprise wowed everyone in 2013. The chocolate egg had always been a gender-neutral product – you never knew what toy was inside the shell wrapping. The introduction of the “toys for girls” line – complete with pink wrapping – sparked outrage.

Why did Kinder find it acceptable to switch up their marketing technique? Were the old toys not designed for girls? The backlash created by the change in marketing from gender-neutral to gender-specific meant that Ferrero, the company behind making Kinder Surprise, were forced to switch back to the original wrapping.

Gender-neutral marketing is important for any small business. There may be some cases where businesses have a product aimed solely at either a male or female market, however ensuring your product doesn’t isolate or adhere to gender stereotyping is important.

Even Amazon announced in May 2015 that it will no longer categorise toys – meaning an elimination of boys and girls sections. How long before we see the eradication of mens and womens sections altogether? If we can do it for children and shift away from pink for girls and blue for boys, why can’t we do it for adults too?

Inclusive marketing

Marketing is a tricky game. You want to appeal to as many people as possible without isolating certain demographics and potential customers, or coming across as any kind of ‘phobic. One of the main focuses of marketing for any business, however, should be inclusivity.

Helpfully, men aren’t actually from Mars and women have never been to Venus. In fact from a marketing point of view all genders are fairly similar. Emanuella Grinberg writing for CNN states:

“Various studies in the past decades have assessed the impact of gender on traits that define our personalities: verbal and nonverbal communication, aggression, leadership, self-esteem, moral reasoning and motor behaviors. The most recent meta-analysis of those findings found that 78% of the magnitude of gender differences were in the small or close-to-zero range.”

If running an inclusive business isn’t enough to make the case for gender-neutral marketing, perhaps a slap on the wrist from MPs will be? In 2015 the UK Government formed the Women and Equalities Committee, chaired by MP Maria Miller who has suggested that retail bosses with dodgy, gendered pricing might be called to Parliament to explain themselves.

“At a time when we should be moving toward a more de-gendered society, retailers are out of step with public opinion.”

From Bic pens to Nike football boots, consumers are becoming more aware of thinly veiled sexism – don’t let your business fall foul of this outdated notion, customers will spend their pennies elsewhere.

Price your products fairly and don’t discriminate – regardless if a product or service you’re supplying is geared more toward the supposed male or female market. Think about the core message being received by the audience; the last thing you want your business to be accused of is patronising them.

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Written by Claire Beveridge

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