Flat Pricing for Bras

This story has pricing, justice, and sizeism (discrimination based on size) all rolled into one.

From the BBC: M&S defends ‘tax on bigger bras’

Marks & Spencer has defended a policy of charging extra on some of its bras that are bigger than a size DD.
The High Street retailer said that the added cost – typically £2 – was “standard industry practice”.
M&S added it found most customers “were happy to pay a small premium for the specialist work” needed to make larger sizes of their bras.
But the policy has drawn protests with 900 people joining a Busts 4 Justice protest group on the Facebook website.

[And yes, that is the controversial bra, pictured above.]

The standard market-based response is, of course: “if you don’t like a company’s pricing, shop elsewhere.” That’s the beauty of the market: a whole range of suppliers can provide a range of products designed, manufactured, and even priced in a range of ways, and customers can choose what suits them. You can buy the blue or red or lilac bra if you want; you can buy the sweatshop-free bra if you want; and you can buy the one-price-for-all bra. Or not.
On the other hand, there’s nothing at all unreasonable (even from a fully market-based approach) about customers trying to get a company to change its practices.
Whether the company’s practices are worthy of criticism from a social point of view is a harder question. As CREUM PhD student Dominic Martin pointed out to me, there’s a conflict here between two popular norms regarding retail pricing. One norm says price should depend on inputs (labour, materials, overhead, etc.). The other norm says everyone should pay the same price for a given good (i.e. flat pricing). What one of the advocates quoted in the story wants is consistency: most clothes are subject to flat pricing: XXL costs the same as XS, usually. So why not these bras? But then again, maybe retail pricing consistency is itself a good best priced by the market.
For what it’s worth, ethics-in-pricing is one of the big gaps in the current business ethics literature. Indeed, the topic practically doesn’t exist (except for the occasional mention of profiteering or price-fixing).

1 comment so far

  1. Michael on

    There are a number of layers here Chris. The obvious one is why single out the humble brassiere? Is its unique pricing structure reflecting its social position, or is the manufacture actually more complex, rather than just more material, like a dress. Would they do this to men? Was it a response to market forces – we know demand for larger bras has been increasing.

    Is it discrimination (sizeism), or is there a subtle social engineering message? We know larger breasts, and hence larger bras are associated with increased health problems, so should there be an incentive to lose weight, and is breast size within the control of the owner? Could this be directed against augmentation? If sex workers seek implants as part of their job description, then is paying more for a bra a legitimate business expense?

    What we don’t know is what the reasoning behind this was, and whether the market response was adequately researched. Nevertheless it demonstrates responsiveness to market forces.


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