Marks & Spencer Backpedals on Bra Prices

Back in July a controversy arose over the fact that British retailer Marks & Spencer was charging more for bigger bras. I blogged about it: Flat Pricing for Bras.

Well, the critics have won.

From CNN: British retailer admits bra boob

Charging chesty women more for their bras doesn’t win a lot of support, British retailer Marks & Spencer acknowledged Friday as it announced an end to the surcharge on its larger lingerie.

“We boobed,” screamed a full-page Marks & Spencer ad, which appeared in British newspapers Friday.

Marks & Spencer gave in to campaigners who argued that the higher prices of the bigger bras was unfair. The retailer charged as much as £2 ($3) more for all sizes DD and up.

“It’s true that our fantastic quality larger bras cost more money to make, and we felt it was right to reflect this in the prices we charged,” the ad said. “Well, we were wrong.”

It follows a nearly year-long campaign by members of the Facebook group Busts 4 Justice.

The basic back-and-forth of the argument went like this: It’s unfair — discriminatory — to charge some people more than others for bras. But bigger bras cost more to make, because they use more material. But that’s true of clothing in general: bigger sizes always take more fabric, but a size 10 dress doesn’t cost any more than a size 2. Why single out bras as an opportunity for price discrimination?

Consumers are used to paying more for bigger things in many product categories: you pay more for a bigger jar of peanut butter or (other things being equal) for a bigger car. Presumably we accept that because the logic of it is clear: it makes straightforward sense to pay more to get more. But for bras, the claim that bigger ones cost more to manufacture falls flat, because we know that for relevantly-similar products (i.e., other items of apparel) manufacturers and retailers don’t bother to charge more for bigger items. We don’t know how or why Levis charges the same for bigger & smaller jeans, despite the fact that one pair might require literally twice as much fabric as the other. Maybe the fabric just doesn’t cost that much to begin with; maybe the labour and shipping and advertising are the big costs, and so it’s not worth the hassle to charge based on size. But consumers tend not to wonder about that. They’ve been taught by experience that flat pricing is feasible for garments, and so there’s a strong presumption in favour of flat pricing, one which I suspect would be difficult for any retailer to get around.

5 comments so far

  1. liliannattel on

    Interesting, I never thought about that. I suppose that consumers feel they have a choice about buying a bigger or larger jar of pb but not clothing. Mfrs can get around differential costs in material by averaging it out over all garment sizes. But I think that esp with bras a raw nerve was touched. If not jeans why such a personal item? It comes off as a punishment.

  2. jpbauer on

    And who said Business Ethics was boring?

    Keep up the great work.

    jpbauer

  3. Chris MacDonald on

    jp:

    Touché! lol

    Thanks,
    Chris.

  4. Bernard Francis on

    Who cares? The bra guys have to make money for their owners. The big chested complainers can vote with their dollars. Either they will go out of business, or lower their price. Either way, it’s not a business ethics issue. I guess someone wants to make a fairness or moral issue out of it, but it has nothing to do with for-profit business. The noise might…

  5. Chris MacDonald on

    Ivymike:

    Thinking that the solution is obvious is not the same as thinking it’s not an ethical issue.
    If it involves a business treating different people differently, for no obviously-justifiable reason, it’s an ethical issue.

    Chris.


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