Is Pink Tax Real?

Published for FFT

February, 2016

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There has been quite a buzz for some time now about whether it is justified for women to pay an extra something for products that men seem to spend much less on – be it toys or shampoo, razors or deodorants.

This phenomenon, which has loosely come to be known as Pink Tax, makes you wonder if it is more expensive to be a woman in today’s world. If not so, then why are women forced to pay significantly more when the same brands of products are marketed for women.

This came into the limelight back in 2014, when a petition was filed against France’s Monoprix supermarket chain, accusing it of charging more for women’s products.

A more recent investigation, conducted in 2015 by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, looked into the prices of more than 800 items offered in both male- and female-targeted sections. They admittedly found that such items, belonging to the same category and brands, cost much more when they were being sold to women. The study found that women’s clothing costs an average of 8 per cent more than men’s! If that information does not shock you, take note that personal care products cost women an average of 13 per cent more than men!

This report, combined with the sexist pricing policies of retailers, has angered women across the world. The findings of this study reveal that women are paying thousands of dollars more over the course of their lives to purchase similar products as men.
While ‘gender-pricing’ continues to remain a topic of debate in the international market, the report enticed us to figure out to what extent this concept holds true for the Indian fashion market. We had a word with a few retail brands and experts regarding the same to help us understand and trace its existence.

Kingshuk Pandit (ex-Big Bazaar) reasons that the price difference between men and women’s clothing has its origin to the quota regime in international trade.

Prior to 2005, there was a price difference on women’s wear lines going into retail shelves, as most of the garments were being manufactured in Asia and higher rates were being charged for getting quotas to export women’s garments for the international brands. However, since the abolishing of quotas in 2005, the extra price, which was carried forth to the final ticket price, no longer existed. However, it left behind a mindset that is yet to evolve. He believes that the variations in prices, if any, might exist due to this mindset and has less to do with the intention of charging a gender- specific higher price.

International brands like Levis, which are operating in the Indian market, claim that they follow an international benchmark set by their head office wherein gender does not influence the pricing of a product, though in certain instances women’s wear is priced higher than menswear for legitimate reasons. The company claims that usually women’s garments go through a more laborious course of processes, compared to menswear, to achieve the end-product. Though the products might look similar from the outside, the difference lies right from the composition to the finish. For women, the fabrics have higher percentage of stretch, the construction details are more intricate, the shades of colours are more challenging to acquire and the finishes much softer.
Most brands look at women’s section as a valued segment of their consumer base and have an extremely competitive market. In fact, to woo their treasured consumer, they sometimes go to the extent of pricing their products competitively lower than their adversaries.

Sanjeev Mohanty, the CEO of Indian e-commerce giant Jabong, also shares a similar sentiment towards this issue. He believes that though women are impulsive buyers, they are still an intelligent section of the consumers and ar extremely sensitive in terms of pricing and design recognition. “Women are patient shoppers, and will browse through multiple styles and sites to discover what exactly they are looking for. Brands and sites will always treat women consumers in a special manner, as they are very intense consumers and influence the purchase of other women in the social network/family,” he said. Sanjeev strongly denies the presence of any gender-related price disparities, instead says that a situation called ‘Pink Subsidy’ is applicable to the Indian market.

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For now, what we do know is that women shoppers in India can take a breath of relief for they are safe from any gender-bias in terms of product pricing. These policies may well be existent or simply hyped in the international market. However in the domestic market, retailers value women consumers.

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