Pink tax: Why are women's products more expensive?

Women hit with 'Pink Tax' fees and prices

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Look carefully at your receipts and store shelves, and you could start to notice a pattern.

It's a phenomenon being called the "Pink Tax," and it could leave some shoppers frustrated. A product marketed to women ends up costing more than the exact same product targeted to men.

Studies show that the average woman may be paying nearly $1,400 more a year in extra costs and fees, based on the prices of typical household items.

It happens a lot in toiletry items. KGW investigators visited Portland Target, Walgreens and Fred Meyer stores to test the theory.

Target brand disposable razors: same amount, same number of blades, same maker. It's $5.39 for the pink ones and $4.99 for the blue. That's a difference of 40 cents.

Gold Bond Body lotion at Walgreens cost $10.99 for the regular version and $9.99 for the bottle specifically targeting men.

There was a a bigger price discrepancy with several of the deodorants. A Degree twin-pack for women costs $7.39. The same Degree twin-pack with the same ingredients and the same size in the men's version, is only $3.99. That's a difference of $3.40 that women pay.

Many stores are putting men's products in their own area, for better marketing, which can make it harder for a time-pressed shopper to compare prices.

"I would never compare deodorant," said Target shopper Shannon Brophy. "A three-pack is a three-pack. It shouldn't matter if it's a women's fragrance or not, that seems crazy."

"I think consumers are really going to be shocked by this," said Ian Parkman, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Portland's Pamplin School of Business.

He said men typically buy the brands they always have, get the cheapest version and aren't as drawn in by fragrance or buzz words on packaging.

"Females alternatively, tend to be much more involved in these purchases," Parkman says. "There is symbolic value, there's experiential value. They figure it's a little small way for me to treat myself perhaps, to use these kinds of products so I spend more time thinking about it."

That's why companies and the stores charge more for it, because they can. Gender pricing is only outlawed in California, New York City and Florida's Miami-Dade County. Everywhere else, it's perfectly legal.

"I think it's ridiculous," said Portland shopper Lori Dorie. "I wouldn't have known if you hadn't have showed me. I normally just walk into the store and buy something."

Shopper Tara Collins hadn't noticed either. "I don't know if I'm upset about it. I just haven't paid attention."

When Consumer Reports did a 2010 study about the pink tax, manufacturers responded by saying some women's products cost more to make, use different formulas or the prices are raised by stores themselves in exchange for a coveted eye-level spot on the shelf.

It's even happening with clothes. KGW investigators found a discrepancy at Old Navy, for example. Online we found they're only charging women extra for the plus-sized version of clothes.

A white, button-down shirt costs the same in regular men's sizes, as it does in what they call Big Men's sizes. But the same white, button-down shirt for plus sized women, is literally double the price as the exact same shirt in smaller sizes.

Old Navy's statement says they specially design the women's plus clothing with "...curve-enhancing and curve-flattering elements such as four-way stretch materials and contoured waistbands, which most men's garments do not include."

Professor Parkman says it's straight-up gender strategy. It's not fair, but it's smart.

"All these brands are doing is offering their products for a price," Parkman says. "You as a consumer, don't have to buy it. You can walk right past and choose their competitor if you think it has better value. And if Degree deodorant believes that's the price, and that's what they're going to offer it as, it stinks a little bit but they're just trying to play the game as best they can."

Things have been equalizing out, and actually with some products, it's tipping the other way. You've probably seen the clever commercials aimed at young men for things like Old Spice deodorant or Axe sprays.

Lots of manufacturers are now making special men's products with different smells and slick packaging. So prices are going up for them, whether men notice it or not.

More: KGW investigative reports


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