Men earn 20% more on average than women selling identical new products on eBay, shedding light on unconscious biases which affect buying behaviour
Women who sell goods online can apparently fetch higher prices if they are willing to make one simple tweak to their pitch: pretend they are men.
The finding emerges from a study which discovered that on average men earned 20% more than women when they sold identical new products on eBay.
The disparity appears to come from a tendency for all buyers – both men and women – to offer less for items put up for auction at the online marketplace when the seller is a woman.
“We expected to find a gap, but we were surprised at the magnitude, especially because the biggest effect was for new products where women and men are selling exactly the same thing,” said Tamar Kricheli-Katz, a sociologist at Tel Aviv University.
The results are thought to shed light on the unconscious biases that affect people’s buying behaviour. One possible explanation, raised by the authors, is that people unwittingly assign more value to products owned by men than women, leading potential buyers to bid more.
If the study is backed up by further research, it would be one of the first to show with real product data how inequality and discrimination put women at a consistent disadvantage in the online marketplace.
Kricheli-Katz and economist Tali Regev analysed US sales of 420 most popular products from the full range of eBay categories between 2009 and 2012. They found that women made up nearly a quarter of vendors in the dataset, and that despite having less selling experience, they enjoyed better reputations as vendors.
The disparity in prices paid for goods was evident in used products as well as new, but the gap was far smaller. On average, buyers paid women 97% of the price they paid men for the same secondhand items. The gap may be smaller because the bias against females is nearly offset by buyers having more trust in women’s descriptions of secondhand items, the researchers write in the journal Science Advances.
Though eBay vendors do not declare their gender on the site, the researchers ran a separate experiment which showed that sellers’ usernames, and the items they sold, was an accurate guide. “If I’m selling an iPhone, but also my shoes and a purse, it’ll be relatively easy to identify me as a woman,” said Kricheli-Katz. “And the more items I sell, the more accurately people can categorise me.”
To test their suspicion that buyers paid less to women than men simply because of their gender, the duo ran an online experiment. They asked people to declare how much they would pay for a $100 Amazon voucher. When the voucher was offered by “Brad”, the bids were higher than when it was offered by “Alison”.
The results show that, on average, women fared worse at the online market. But a delve into the data reveals some upsides for female vendors. In certain categories, women typically sold the same items for more than men did. A particular model of Barbie sold for 16% more to women vendors, while pet food, inexplicably, sold for 20% more. On the other hand, men made a whopping 270% more when selling a Nintendo Wii, 30% more on a thermal printer, and 20% more on golf balls. A folding knife sold for 61% less when sold by a woman than a man. “You don’t want to be a woman selling that,” said Regev.
All of which leaves the question of what a woman’s to do. One strategy the researchers have heard is for women to adopt a male username on eBay and sell one item at a time to help conceal their gender. But neither Kricheli-Katz nor Regev are fans of that approach. “We don’t want to be living in a world where people hide their gender. It might seem like a good strategy, but we should be reducing this gap in other ways,” said Kricheli-Katz.
“A better strategy is for buyers to look for women sellers and to buy from them,” said Regev. “They can get better prices, but at the same time, more bidding on the women’s products will help to narrow the gap.” Better still, pay the women the same price as male vendors.
“What we really hope is that by making people more aware of these unconscious biases, maybe over time the gap will narrow,” said Kricheli-Katz. To make matters worse, women typically paid more than men for the products they bought on eBay.
In the journal the authors raise questions about other marketplaces where the sex of vendors is never in doubt: “As a policy, eBay does not explicitly state the gender of its users. Nevertheless, men and women are easily gender-categorised by other users. We suspect that even greater divergences are present in other product markets where gender is always known,” they write.
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