The Cost of Beauty: Women Pay More at Your Local Drugstore
Personal care sections of drugstores and pharmacies are filled with shiny packages sold exclusively "For Her," many at equally exclusive prices.
The Gillette Venus women's razor retails for $7.99 at Wegmans Food Markets and as much as $8.49 at other locations. Its male-targeted counterpart, the Gillette Mach Three, on the other hand, retails for $6.99. Both are triple-bladed razors with a pivoting head and protective rubber coating at the base of the blade, and packaging aside, are nearly identical.
An 8-oz. stick of Secret Platinum Protection deodorant, which contains one of the two most common active ingredients in deodorants, retails for $3.99, while similar products such as Gillette's Clear Gel deodorant retail for less than $3.00.
Finding female beauty aides equal in price to their male counterparts is difficult; finding some that are less expensive is nearly impossible. Companies are hesitant to explain the margins: Secret declined to comment, but Gillette was willing to address the issue.
"Each of our products are unique, and require unique price placement," said Laura Henchey, a public relations associate for Gillette. "In the case of the Venus and the Mach Three, they are indeed different. One is a straight razor more suited for men, while the other is rounded for the curves of a woman's legs."
Cheryl Tempesta, a writer for Consumer Reports magazine, disagrees.
"The Venus and the Mach Three are very similar - so similar that this is clearly an attempt to capture the female razor market as they have claimed the male one," said Tempesta. "Frankly, I can't see how one can curve a razorblade. It defeats the purpose of the item."
Tempesta maintains that feminine versions often profit from women's desires for recognition distinct from male consumers.
"Developing a similar product with subtle changes has long been an effective marketing strategy," said Tempesta. "It appeals to the independence many women strive for. I've been guilty of this myself. Sneaking in a little extra charge is just a perk."
Many consumers have also noticed the similarities between male and female beauty aids, and are refusing to pay extra for feminine styling.
"I use my husband's [Mach Three] razor all the time," said Sara Doolan, 33. "I've never noticed a difference between the comfort or anything. I don't think I'd pay the extra money for the package."
"As long as the deodorant smells decent, I'll use it," said Katie Hatche, 24. "I'll use my brother's spray-on if he gets powder fresh scent. If anything, the male version seems to work better. Can't say I've ever noticed any real difference, though."
The companies that market the products are not solely responsible for the differences in prices between the male and female products.
"Keep in mind that the retailers make the decisions of the final price to the consumer," Henchey said. "If they decide to mark a product a little higher than another, that is their business."
"That's something of a half truth," said Tempesta. "Yes, a retail store has the last say on product price. But many have a standard percentage markup - they'll buy a product for a dollar, sell it for $2.99. That's an across the board mark-up for all products, or all the products in a group."
Wegmans, Tops International Markets and Wal-Mart, to name a few, all mark up products based on cost and distribution deals they may have with a particular company. A female version of a product's higher price is often a direct consequence of wholesale pricing.
"Women should take a closer look at these premium products before they buy," Tempesta said. "Maybe this trend will start to wane if we do."