Why Are Big-Box Stores Pricing Barbies Differently By Race?

Equality in the toy aisle.

Equality in the toy aisle.

Are pricing algorithms racist? That’s not really possible, and several big retailers are blaming “pricing errors” for discrepancies in the prices of Barbie dolls of different ethnicities. Shoppers interested in a doll in a figure-skating costume, for example, have to pay $1.99 extra at Walmart for a doll with darker skin and black hair. How does that happen?

One dad shopping for the Barbie Fashion Maker doll for his daughter for Christmas was stunned to see that the black doll cost more than double the price of the white one online at Target.

That’s not very fair: if the toy was on a special sale, why was it only on the white doll? He called Target and the retailer told him that he could buy the more expensive black doll for the sale price while they sorted out the pricing error. He also took the issue to local TV station WCPO in Cincinnati, which contacted Target. In a statement, the retailer said:

Both dolls should have reflected the same pricing, however, due to a systems issue this change did not occur. We appreciate you bringing this discrepancy to our attention and have since adjusted the pricing and product detail listing.

After the news story aired, both dolls were at the lower $20.99 price: now the sale is apparently over, and both cost $49.99. However, there are less dramatic price differences at other retailers: CNBC alerted Walmart to the price difference between different versions of their ice skater doll, and the company corrected it, promising a gift card to make up the difference for any shoppers who did purchase the overpriced doll. Toys ‘R’ Us, meanwhile, changed things up by charging an extra $4 for the white doll.

After father’s anger, Target adjusts sales price of black Barbie doll [WCPO]