News 5 Investigates

Feb 27, 2014 8:55 PM by Eric Ross

News 5 Investigates: Pricing discrepancy at retail store creates controversy

A pricing discrepancy in one big-box toy store has sparked a larger conversation in our community. It started online two weeks ago when we shared photos of two Barbie dolls on our News 5 Facebook page.

Minus the skin color, both Barbies are the same, but the prices are not.

While no one believes the pricing was racially motivated, the company calls it a mistake. However, it's a mistake that touched off a firestorm of conversation about the impact.

A Colorado Springs Toys "R"Us store is stirring up controversy over price discrepancies between black and white Barbie dolls. With hidden cameras rolling, we went inside and within minutes, spotted a "potty training" black Barbie on the shelf for $19.99, while it's white counterpart sells for $21.99.

"I know that it seems to people that this would be something children wouldn't notice," Heidi Lewis, a feminist and gender studies professor at Colorado College said. "Most people would say that no child would notice that there was a two dollar difference between the dolls, but my daughter would."

In addition to teaching at Colorado College, Lewis is a mother. She says the price differences between the two dolls presents a bad message for children.

"I think they (people) would notice and I think they would, like a lot of us do, associate monetary value with cultural value and ask, ‘what is it about this doll that requires it to be more expensive than the other?'"

This is not the first time Toys "R"Us landed itself in hot water. In 2011, a Toys "R"Us in Georgia came under fire for pricing black Barbie dolls higher than white ones.

Richard Abels has over 30 years of experience in corporate marketing, and says the price difference could be explained through supply and demand.

"When consumers buy it (a product) and demand is high, that's the price they pay," Abels said. "If a product isn't selling, lowering the price is one way to stimulate demand."

To put his theory to the test, we took our hidden cameras into Wal-Mart and Target stores, both in Pueblo and Colorado Springs.

What we found:

All stores had the black and white Barbie models priced the same.

We even dropped by a Toys "R"Us store outside of Denver. The store ,too, had both Barbie dolls priced at $19.99.

The only store we visited selling the dolls at different prices was the Toys "R"Us store on the east side of Colorado Springs.

"I'm sure that very large chains have it very scientifically managed based on what their sales data tells them,' Abels said. "Whether it is chainwide, or store-by-store could be a factor in determining what sells and what doesn't."

A News 5 employee asked a cashier inside the Colorado Springs store about the price difference, and was told the white Barbie doll is marketed at a higher price because it tends to sell more.

That's led to mixed reactions.

"I don't necessarily think the people who make these decisions hate black girls in a way that's visible," Lewis said. " I don't think they mean to perpetuate what's been happening for decades. I think a lot of times it's ignorance. Even though that's only a $2 difference, that's a $2 difference I've been dealing with for 32 years."

We reached out to Toys "R"Us for comment.

They issued this statement:

"It is our policy to price same dolls of different ethnicities the same. Items such as this are systematically ‘linked' so that when a price is changed on one item, it's carried across to other identical items. The pricing error you encountered was the result of these otherwise identical items not being 'linked' properly within our system. Earlier this week, this error was identified, and the incorrect pricing was immediately adjusted. Both are currently available for $19.99."

If you have a story idea you'd like the News 5 Guardians investigative team to look into, email us at



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