The Pink Story

Discriminating women consumers through gender-based pricing of products is unethical
The Pink Story

Let me begin today's column with a 'pink' story. Actuallythis is a small but significant incident which I witnessed at a stationeryoutlet. A lady was shopping some stationary items for her two kids. She askedfor some choice in calculators. Finally, she chose two calculators of the samebrand and specifications. The only difference was the colour – one in blackcolour and another in pink. She chose pink one for her girl child.

Surprisingly, the lady was made to pay higher price for thepink version than the black one. When the lady argued the difference in pricingas both calculators were exactly of the same make and specification, she wastold by the salesman that extra charges are to be paid for the product being inpink colour. The lady paid the bill and left the shop clueless.

Though the amount of price difference between the twocalculators was not huge, yet it was something which was displaying genderbiased pricing of products. Basically, this pink driven pricing of products isa global phenomenon. The women consumers are exposed consumers to a high riskterritory of price exploitation. It is a common sight in our markets to comeacross the prices of goods with women as buyers traded in the markets settledarbitrarily by the seller.

In market parlance, this gender-based price discriminationis commonly known as 'pink tax'.  Thistax has no formal basis and refers to this invisible cost that women have topay for products designed and marketed specifically to them, while the genericor male equivalent of the same products are available for less. In other words,we usually notice female products and services costlier than that of men. Thesellers, be it a retail outlet or a manufacturing unit, intentionally give adelicate look to the products and usually use pink colour to justify high pricetag of the product.

So, this 'pink tax', which is actually not a tax, is an"income-generating scenario for companies capitalizing on the colour in a wayto make their product look either more directed to or specially moreappropriate for the women consumers. It's simply a money-maker for them.

I have come across various surveys on the subject whichreveal that women pay at least twice as much than men in more than half thetime they shop. The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs' study titled'From Cradle to Cane: The Cost of Being a Female Consumer' is the most recentstudy quoted revealing gender-biased pricing of products and services. Thesurvey has compared the prices of over 800 products which found that productsfor women cost 7 percent more than the same products made for men.

Back in the country, there is no such credible data to showthe existence of pink tax in the formal taxation system. However, in ourcontext pink tax is levied on products sold to women informally as is evidentfrom gender price discrimination in products. Even in services sector, thewomen folk are subjected to this arbitrary pricing.

Charging 'pink tax' to women is not justified at all. Forexample, in case of calculators of same make and specification, the productioncharges cannot be different. This means, selling price too has to be same inboth the cases whether the calculator is black or pink in colour. Precisely,it's totally unfair and discriminatory if as women – or as someone whopurchases products marketed to women – are made to pay extra for a pink insteadof a black one.

This is an unnoticed phenomenon prevailing in our marketswhere our women consumers – be it our mother, sister, daughter or spouse – areforced to pay this so-called 'pink tax' by using gimmicks of color andpackaging. To curb this unfair trade practice, the authorities have aresponsibility to act and fine tune the markets where the practice ofgender-based price discrimination is eliminated. If efforts are being put toempower women, this 'pink tax' is a whip to dis-empower them financially.

Meanwhile, the women consumers too have a responsibility toprotect themselves against this rosy way of shopping products and services.They should not fall for packaging that dresses products in a pretty shade ofpink or any other glittering color to get their attention. In such situation,it would be better to go for generic versions instead, especially if thedifference or advantage in the products they intend to buy is not huge. Letthem be good to their pockets.

(The views are of the author and not that of the institutionhe works for)

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