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MPs may question retailers on gender 'price discrimination'

Published 19/01/2016

The research found some retailers are charging more for products aimed at women
The research found some retailers are charging more for products aimed at women

Retailers could be called to Parliament to face questioning after research suggested high street stores are charging up to twice as much for products aimed at women than men.

Analysis of hundreds of products by The Times newspaper found the cost of clothes, beauty products and toys for females are routinely higher than equivalent items pitched at males.

In one case, Tesco charges double the price for 10 disposable razors which are pink, while Levi's 501 jeans for women are on average 46% more expensive than the men's version, according to the newspaper.

Maria Miller, chairwoman of the Women and Equalities Committee, told the Press Association: "Retailers need to explain how they can be charging such different prices for items which look identical.

"It's an excellent piece of research and it's something which the committee will be considering whether we should take further.

"This is just the sort of thing the Women and Equalities Select Committee can consider and make sure that in this instance retailers are made to account for what appears to be price discrimination based on sex."

She added: "I think many women will understand the point that is being made, particularly when it comes to clothing and toiletries.

"Sometimes the difference in price is noticeable, but I think an independent piece of research like this, an investigative piece of journalism, has really shone a spotlight on how widespread this problem appears to be."

The Times reported that out of hundreds of products its team analysed, they found only one example of a male item which was pricier than one aimed at females - a set of underwear.

But dozens of "female" products were more expensive.

Across all products with different prices, those pitched at women were 37% higher on average, the newspaper said.

Sam Smethers, chief executive of women's rights charity the Fawcett Society, accused retailers of a "sexist rip-off".

She told the Press Association: "These findings are shocking because they show just how systematic it is across the retail industry.

"They didn't just find one or two examples. Some are targeted at adults, some at children, it includes clothing, toiletries and so on - it really is a wide range of products, and they found a 37% mark up on average for products that were marketed as being for women or for girls.

"That is not just 5%, 10%, that is over a third more that women are paying for the pleasure of being marketed to as a woman. And there is nothing intrinsically different about those products that justifies an increase of that kind.

"It is a big rip-off. It is a sexist rip-off and we have all just got to see through it and start demanding something different."

Ms Smethers called for retailers and manufacturers to create a new "gender-neutral" line of products which would not be targeted at men or women and would create a "fairer deal for consumers".

She said: "We need to pull the wool from our eyes and wake up to the fact that this is the entire retail industry ripping us off for being women, and we have got to stop it."

She warned that if retailers "carry on with this kind of rip-off" then the Government should consider using legislation to stop the practice.

She said: "We will also be talking to the Government about what they could do to treat this as a form of discrimination under the law, because it is so systematic you could make a case that this is a kind of discriminatory practice that should be outlawed.

"One of the things we want to look at is how we can get the law to change, if that is needed, but first of all let's see if there is a positive response from retailers."

A Tesco spokesman said: "We work hard to offer customers clear, fair and transparent pricing. A number of products for females have additional design and performance features which can add to the retail price.

"We continually review our pricing strategy so that none of our customers lose out when shopping at Tesco."

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