The sexist surcharge: why Boots should lead the way on reviewing pricing

Last week The Times published the results of an investigation into sexist pricing on our high streets, and the results were mind-boggling, even to those of us who have long lamented the ever-increasing cost of being a woman.

The investigation found that women and girls are charged 37% more than men and boys for equivalent products on our high streets. Whether it’s razors and anti-ageing cream, t-shirts and underwear or children’s toys –  if you’re a bloke, you’re getting a better deal. The Fawcett Society has referred to this as the ‘sexist surcharge’ and I think that’s exactly what this is.

I first noticed this when I had my hair cut very short and realised that I was being charged £20 more than men for a similar haircut, done by the same stylist, in the same salon. When I asked why I was being charged more, the answer was simple; women’s haircuts cost more than men’s. That’s just how it works.

Let me be clear – this is absolutely not how this should work. How can it be right that women are paying substantially more than men for exactly the same stuff?

I asked that question last week when I launched a petition asking Boots to review their sexist pricing. Boots is a well-respected staple of the British high street. They make their own brand products which they market separately to men and women, and guess which products cost more?

  • Women are charged £2.29 for a pack of 8 razors, when men pay just £1.49 for a pack of 10.
  • Men’s Botanics Anti-Ageing eye roll-on is £7.29 and the same product costs £9.99 when marketed at women.

This is absolutely scandalous, but I believe Boots can lead the way in making a change. It’s not like there is nothing in it for them – we know that they value their customers. Boots is setting the prices on their own brand products and they are choosing to charge women more. However, it’s clear from recent advertising campaigns that Boots’ target market and customer base is made up of women – remember their ‘Here Come the Girls’ campaign, or their recent #DiscoverMore campaign, featuring a mother-daughter duo shopping for fabulous Christmas gifts?

What did Boots think would happen when their loyal customers ‘discovered’ a little more than their CEO Simon Roberts had hoped they might? And what is he going to do to fix the trust of the 35,000 people who have so far signed the petition, and the hundreds of people who have been in touch with me asking what they can do to help make this change a reality?

I’ve had some questions about the importance of this issue – what’s a couple of quid to you when there are women abused on a daily basis, and what about the gender pay gap, or basic rights for women in other countries? Surely we have more important things to worry about? Well, for me the answer is obvious– yes, there are other urgent and serious issues that women face, but the key thing to remember is that they are all symptoms of the same disease; they are all ways to keep women down, to deny us power, and to stop us being treated equally to men. The more symptoms we cure, the closer we get to equality.

And this is a simple one that together we can fix, right here, right now. So, Boots – please review your sexist pricing and make this right. Make it right with your customers, and be the company who is the first to accept that there is no place for sexism on our high streets. This research has shone a very bright light on the extent of this problem – this isn’t just about one industry. It’s endemic, and we can change it.

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Stevie Wise
Stevie Wise is the Head of Student Voice at Middlesex University Student's Union. She started a change.org petition against the sexist surcharge which has over 35,000 signatures to date.

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