The Pink Story

Let me begin today’s column with a ‘pink’ story. Actually this is a small but significant incident which I witnessed at a stationery outlet. A lady was shopping some stationary items for her two kids. She asked for some choice in calculators. Finally, she chose two calculators of the same brand and specifications. The only difference was the colour – one in black colour and another in pink. She chose pink one for her girl child.

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

Though the amount of price difference between the two calculators was not huge, yet it was something which was displaying gender biased pricing of products. Basically, this pink driven pricing of products is a global phenomenon. The women consumers are exposed consumers to a high risk territory of price exploitation. It is a common sight in our markets to come across the prices of goods with women as buyers traded in the markets settled arbitrarily by the seller.

In market parlance, this gender-based price discrimination is commonly known as ‘pink tax’.  This tax has no formal basis and refers to this invisible cost that women have to pay for products designed and marketed specifically to them, while the generic or 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. The sellers, be it a retail outlet or a manufacturing unit, intentionally give a delicate look to the products and usually use pink colour to justify high price tag 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 way to make their product look either more directed to or specially more appropriate for the women consumers. It’s simply a money-maker for them.

I have come across various surveys on the subject which reveal that women pay at least twice as much than men in more than half the time 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 recent study quoted revealing gender-biased pricing of products and services. The survey has compared the prices of over 800 products which found that products for women cost 7 percent more than the same products made for men.

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

Charging ‘pink tax’ to women is not justified at all. For example, in case of calculators of same make and specification, the production charges cannot be different. This means, selling price too has to be same in both the cases whether the calculator is black or pink in colour. Precisely, it’s totally unfair and discriminatory if as women – or as someone who purchases products marketed to women – are made to pay extra for a pink instead of a black one.

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

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

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