Why Does a Caucasian Dollhouse Cost Nearly 70% More Than an African-American Dollhouse?

If you were shopping on Amazon.com last night for a Fisher-Price “My First Dollhouse” with a Caucasian family, you would have been asked to pay $63.99:

If, however, you wanted to buy what looks to be a nearly identical “My First Dollhouse” with an African-American family, the price was only $37.99:

Amazon reviewers have taken note, and aren’t pleased:

When my son Solomon (11 years old) wandered past my computer last night as I was looking this over, he didn’t need any prompting: “That’s so racist!” he said.

Is it? What is it that we’re seeing here on Amazon — racial discrimination? Price discrimination? Neither?

When I went back to the site this morning, I saw that the Caucasian dollhouse price had fallen to $55.87:

But the shipping fee was now $7.99, for a total of $63.86. The shipping fee for the $63.99 offer was only $0.99, for a total of $64.98. So the actual price had fallen only $1.12.

But the price change reveals something more telling. The two prices were offered by two different third-party vendors: H Books and Toys and Electronics Club.

The African-American dollhouse, meanwhile, is sold directly by Amazon.

I would assume that Amazon had no intention of charging such a steep premium for the Caucasian dollhouse but by creating a third-party marketplace, has opened itself up to this kind of discrepancy.

I have a few thoughts:

1. Amazon may not even be aware of this discrepancy.

2. Perhaps Amazon had bought from Fisher-Price a certain number of Caucasian dollhouses and offered them at the same price as the African-American dollhouses but the supply ran out, with the order now deferring to a more expensive third party.

3. If Amazon isn’t aware and becomes so — or if an outcry were to arise — it may well step in to strike down the unequal pricing. I would also imagine Fisher-Price would have something to say.

4. There is evidence that white and black children both prefer white dolls. So, the controversial element notwithstanding, are we simply seeing a demand-and-price story here? 

5. I can easily see this scenario prompting a lawsuit, from someone, if only for show.

(HT: Younes Chajia)


Eric M. Jones.

Smart manufacturers know that BLUE people avoid this problem.

jonathan

As the post notes, they're sold by different companies through the Amazon website. That's all there is to the story.

Killy

Well, that's more to the story. 3 companies sell the black doll on Amazon and 12 sell the white doll. It happens that Sweet Seasons sells both with a more than 50% premium for the white one.

Steve

It's because the African-American dollhouse is sold directly by Amazon.com. (The page says: Ships from and sold by Amazon.com) Because of their economies of scale, they offer a very good price on the dollhouse.

The Caucasian dollhouse is for some reason not sold by Amazon.com, but only from other vendors. In the picture above it is sold by "H Books and Toys". These vendors set their own prices, and because they don't have the economies of scale as Amazon, their prices are usually much higher.

Dave

Yes, Amazon could simply be sold-out. But rather than not offering the product at all, they feature the cheapest 3rd-party seller on the main page instead.

Bree

This is what's happening. The dollhouse is $40 (both black and white versions) at Toys R Us. Looking at a price tracking website, Amazon had the Caucasian dollhouse for $29-$38 recently. I'm guessing Amazon sold out around November 16th, because that's when the 3rd party prices shot up.

I think Amazon has some sort of weird pricing system in place for 3rd party sellers because I see crazy prices on toys and books all the time on Amazon, especially when Amazon goes out of stock. I bet that if those sellers have brick and mortar stores that the dollhouse (both versions if they have both) is around $40-$50 in store.

Cameron

I don't know if anyone noticed, but the Caucasian version is sold by some other retailer, not Amazon. It's only listed on Amazon's website. The African-American one is sold by Amazon directly. This accounts for the price and the shipping cost differences.

Stacy L.

This is insane. Anyone ever heard of price elasticity? Perhaps the toy doesn't sell as well and as such, needs to be cheaper to move the product? So much easier to play the provocative race card, though.

dcj125

I agree with this. I've noticed that on Amazon, the price can sometimes change when you select different colors of the same product. I would think this is a similar scenario - except people are getting angry because it's a sensitive topic.

Jennifer Johnson

How do you know she's American?

Major Minor

How do you know they're American?

Grey Williams, Little Rock, AR

The big question is, why does noone offer a dollhouse with both? More and more families look like that.

JohnnyPeps

How is this racism or price discrimination?

If a black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, etc. customer wants the white dollhouse, they all pay the same price.

Same goes if they want the black dollhouse.

jay075j

Where is Al Sharpton on this one? I want to see what the NAACP has to say!!!

aepxc

So is the racism in the fact that Amazon chooses not to carry/makes more expensive the caucasian dollhouse (thereby hurting its potential buyers), or that it positions african-american dolls as being 'cheaper'/less valuable than caucasian dolls? Or a mix of the two/grossly unequal treatment whatever the implications?

Denny

Two products sold by two different companies happen to be differently priced ... the horror! Okay, they are advertised on the same site, but it's really only humans will be making the connection between the different "race" playhouses. Amazon's complex algorithms, which control of the pricing of products they sell themselves, certainly won't have the made the connection we are making.

It's unlikely any human at Amazon has looked at the price of this product, let alone noticed the product which is coming from another seller (and therefore probably the "responsibility" of another department at Amazon). They're just selling the "black" dollhouse at what their computer judges right. Steve lists the good reasons why the 3rd party seller will be more expensive.

If these products were sold at a mall in two different stores (one large retailer known for being cheap, another more specialized/expensive store) at differing prices, would people really be bothered? That's really all this is.

Read more...

caleb b

According to the Census, whites make up 72.4% (224.5 million) of the population, while black people are 12.6% (38.9 million).

Econ 101: increased population equals increased demand. There are simply more people that want the white doll house because there are more white people.

http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/00000.html

Warren

This is nothing more than Dubner stirring up controversy where there is none in an attempt to generate web traffic and comments. This is in a similar vein to what he did yesterday by posting "Smart Stuff From the Comments" to stir the pot again by rehashing Steve Sexton's post "The Inefficiency of Local Food." A comparatively big payoff for very little effort on Dubner's part.

VenusMoon

Thanks for the article. I believe you're asking all the right questions given Amazon's business model. While I shouldn't have to say this, I will because of the nature of the story. I am African-American. My question is for the Freakonomics Team: was the amazon review you posted in this article truly the most articulate of the bunch? It hardly seems worthy of mention here given your academic credentials. Yes, I understand what the person is trying to point out but it's poorly written and reads like gibberish. I would have expected you to select a more articulate reviewer to use as an example. Still, love your work and appreciate you bringing us interesting material everyday.

stoptheinsanity

I shop all the time at Amazon. I even have a pattern of shopping in stores then coming back to my browser where I have a 'hot button' to Amazon and buying from them once I know exactly what I want.

The pricing discrepancy is NOT an Amazon issue nor is it an intended race issue. It is simply a matter of what supplier has the product available at the lowest price.

As an economist - when you say - "If Amazon isn’t aware and becomes so...it may well step in to strike down the unequal pricing. I would also imagine Fisher-Price would have something to say." - it tells me that you are suggesting that they create a 'fair and balanced pricing structure' - artificially. Why would yo do that?

If the pictures with the a Caucasian girl and an African-American girl were provided by Fisher-Price, isn't it equally their responsibility? Further, is it not possible that the comapny that is selling the dollhouse with an minorities image is also minority owned and feel that maybe they should advertise to the minority? If that holds tru is that then culturla bias or racism?

Further, how many children of the targeted age actually surf Amazon.com looking for doll houses? Your comment that both white and black children equally prefer white dolls holds no import here. The parents are doing the shopping, the parents are doing the buying - and the parents are voting when they select which version to buy or not buy.

I typically like Freakonomics when I see the facts, but when you start stepping into the conjecture line without talking to all parties involved? Now I am beginning to think you have an agenda and it isn't one that means well.

Read more...

Briana

Um....one is priced directly from Amazon.com as the seller. The other is priced from a third party. That explains the difference to me. Things priced from Amazon.com are often CHEAPER than the 3rd party retailers. No racism...just different sellers on Amazon.

Toothy

To take this obvious non-story to the extreme. Let us suppose there is a deliberate price fixing situation. Which of the groups are the victims of this "discrimination"? Those that will pay less or those that need to pay more?

Jeff Holmes

Perhaps the government is subsidizing the black family dollhouse with some sort of minority housing relief program.

Hilbert

Forget about price elasticity other complex financial arguments. It is simply due to affirmative action. I am sure a third party is partly subsidizing one of these products. I know, I must be crazy, stuff like this can't happen right?

cath

look at camelcamelcamel.com they chart the sales price on amazon of various items. It shows that the caucasian one ranges in price from $29 to $37.99 when sold directly by Amazon but is currently out of stock. The african american one ranges from $27.82 to $37.99 but is currently in stock. Seems pretty similar to me.

The price range for 3rd party sellers varies much more, but Amazon's doesn't seem too far off base.