True. The tweet above had absolutely nothing to do with this post. It was actually about me going insane. (A very worthy topic.) But not, alas, the topic for today.
Instead, the word “stream” caught my fancy. Yes, I’ll admit. At first it was in a “don’t stand under this” sort of way. But then my thoughts turned to things like revenue streams and product streams. While in that place, I wrote the following little ditty (sung to the tune of The Streets of Laredo):
As I walked out with my Wall Street Journal
As I walked out with my Journal one day
I spied a rich douchebag with a bad hairpiece
A hairpiece as fake as the the caring I feigned.
I see by your outfit that you are a douchebag
I see by your hairpiece that you’re a douchebag, too
I think we should do business we’d both make a killing
There are lots of dumb marks that we can both screw.
We both love money so much that we eat it
We both use work to avoid our home lives
A partnership formed in our quest for more profits
To chase that worthy dream we’re both willing to lie.
Oh cheat and lie and gray the lies lowly
We’ll giggle and laugh as we roll along
Take it the bank and pull the wool o’er
If wealth is right we don’t ever wanna be wrong.
I’ve got greed in my chest and so I must lie.
This sad story is one about the “free market.” Yeah, that free market. You know the one, right? The one that people on the right love to ejaculate about so much? Yeah, that one. This story will provide a glimpse of insight into how that sucker really works.
It started with a phone call…
“Hello, this is Blowhard.” (That’s my boss! And no, that’s not his real name.)
“Hi, this is Madame X with Acme-Fun-Time Distribution.”
Madame X (not her real name) is a representative with a product distribution company. Blowhard has been courting a business relationship with her for some time. It’s very important to him and he worked very hard to build it up. He milks her for information that she probably shouldn’t share. When they met at the convention in Vegas, she took him out to dinner on the company credit card. When he recently toured their plant, she arranged to have his room paid for and got him the all-you-can eat buffet for free. He was as happy as a pig in shit. His two greatest loves are free and food, and she went and gave him both.
You’d think he’d be nice to her after that, right?
“Hey, Blowhard. I need to ask you a question. Have you ever heard of a company called Decepto International?”
My boss didn’t miss a beat. When lying becomes a way of life, you get real good at it. “Nope. I’ve never heard of them.”
I love it when chickens come home to roost.
“Oh,” she said. “That’s a bit odd. You see, they have the exact same address as you.”
Uh oh!! The jig is up! One of our dummy companies just got busted. It turns out that the boss greedily used the dummy company to sell products on Amazon.com but forgot to use a different address. Don’t you hate it when that happens?
Mom was right. When you tell lies, it gets increasingly difficult to keep things straight. Obviously, since my boss was hatched, he never had the opportunity to learn this lesson.
How do you show someone that you respect them and care about them in the world of business? Yup. You lie unabashedly right to their face. Classic.
You see, Blowhard had set up a dummy company to purchase products from Acme-Fun-Time Distribution. He did this after his main company had been blacklisted by certain product manufacturers. He was blacklisted for selling products at prices lower than manufacturers wished. Yes, this cousin of “price fixing” is alive and well here in the United States. For more about this, see my earlier post entitled “Term Stomping” and Wikipedia’s page on “resale price maintenance.”
I guess most people would feel somewhat shamed after getting caught red-handed in a lie like that. Not my boss. Not when money is involved.
I could only chuckle at how he had just taken a major shit on the relationship he had worked so hard to build. Oh, they’ll still do business with us. After all, that puts coin in their pockets. And that’s the way the game is played. You deceive me, I’ll deceive the manufacturer, and we’ll all make money.
And this “free market?” It is one where product manufacturers exert a lot of pressure to maintain prices artificially high. It’s a murky world of blacklisting, contracts, gray markets, and companies ratting each other out. And, I’m willing to bet, most of the players are just like my boss.
I’d heard of the Blue Yeti. I’d even seen one myself once. I decided to go on a quest and find the legendary beast for myself. Along the way I found adventure and revelations that I’d never expected…
What it a Blue Yeti? The “Yeti” is a USB microphone. It is made by a company called Blue Microphones. Hence, the Blue Yeti.
Since I plan to do a “podcast” in 2011 I’ve been trying to learn more about the Yeti. (Don’t expect the standard sort of podcast from me. As usual I plan to put my own spin on the concept.) I’ve even held a Yeti in my very own hands (my boss bought one for his wife as a Christmas present) and I’ve watched a few reviews on YouTube. It seems like a nice product.
My boss said he paid $99 for it including free shipping. That was a few weeks ago.
Note: All pricing information that follows is based on my research, experiences and internet searches on Saturday, January 8, 2011.
I went to the manufacture’s web site at http://www.bluemic.com. They offered it for sale at $149.99. Plus a $4.95 handling fee. Plus $8.64 for FedEx Ground shipping. (The cheapest shipping method they offered.)
That’s $163.58 for the privilege of purchasing direct from the manufacturer. Sorry, but that’s not “value added” enough for me. As the old saying goes, I guess there’s a Blue Store customer born every minute. I decided to press on and look elsewhere.
My next stop was eBay. I figured they’d have some deals where, although I might have to bid, I’d still be able to get it cheaper. Earlier this week I only saw two listed, and they were both $149.99. This morning things have improved slightly. Perhaps. There is one currently at $70 + $5 shipping from a seller with only one rating that is described as “practically brand new.” Perhaps an opportunity for a deal.
There’s another listed for $96.88 with free shipping and a “buy it now” button from MacMall, a “top-rated seller” with over 5,000 feedbacks and a rating of 99.2% positive.
I then tried shopping.google.com. This is where things start to get slightly confusing. I searched for “Blue Yeti” and the first result was something called the “Blue Microphones Yeti USB Condenser Plug Play Microphone Accessory Kit.” The “kit” apparently includes the Yeti plus some other stuff, like headphones, earbuds, and pop filter.
B&H Photo-Video-Audio is listed as a seller of this “kit” for $96.88 and free shipping. (Hmm. The exact same price we saw earlier.) However, when I click their link, I’m taken to a page where I can buy the Yeti a la carte. No headphones, no earbuds and no pop filter. This system feels extremely deceptive to me.
Additionally, the landing page at B&H did not display the product price. Instead of a price the site said, “To see our price, add this item to your cart.” A link was also provided if you wanted to see why. I clicked that link.
Why we don’t show prices
B&H enters into Minimum Advertised Price (MAP) agreements with some suppliers. According to these agreements, which vary in details from vendor to vendor, the retailer can sell an item for any price, but may not advertise the item for an amount less than the Minimum Advertised Price which is set by the supplier. Retailers agree to MAP contracts because the vendor makes it worthwhile for them to do so. A retailer who abides by the agreement can count on getting first news and early shipments of new products, and generally enjoys a favored status. At B&H, while we abide by our MAP agreements, our lowest selling price is always what you pay.
In my research of the Blue Yeti this seemed to be a normal kind of thing. I found several other web sites this morning that displayed similar messages for this product. I did add the item to my cart and the price of $96.88 with free UPS Ground shipping was confirmed.
By this time I was starting to get a good feel that the price of $96.88 was going to be the best deal out there, at least on a new Yeti. Still, I thought I’d check one more time and went to shopping.yahoo.com. There the lowest price displayed seemed to be $149.00.
I tried the Amazon.com link at $149.00. The product landing page showed the “list price” as $149.00 but didn’t show the actual price. Again it was hidden. Clicking a link revealed the price to be $96.88 with free shipping. Definitely some kind of a trend here.
Because our price on this item is lower than the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, the manufacturer does not allow us to show you our price until you place the item in your shopping cart. Retailers like Amazon have the legal right to set their own prices independently. Adding the item to your cart allows Amazon to show you our price consistent with our goal of always offering you the lowest possible prices on the widest selection of products.
Adding this item won’t require you to purchase the product. You can easily remove it from your cart if you decide not to buy it.
We realize that this is an inconvenience and are regularly working to educate manufacturers on how their policies impact our customers. We welcome your comments and suggestions in our forum on this topic.
Interestingly enough, Walmart.com seems to be more than willing to let me pay $149.00. Perhaps not always “low prices,” eh? Frustratingly, I had to register on their goddamn web site just to confirm my order total during checkout. Perhaps ecommerce web sites hiding important checkout information behind “registration” will be a topic for a future post. I couldn’t help but notice that the checkbox to request email notification of their special deals would automatically re-check itself upon every page refresh. Interesting!
A final web site in the Yahoo results called “UnbeatableSale” seemed to be willing to sell me the Yeti for $149.99 but by this time I was spent. I wasn’t about to register on any more web sites just to see the real costs.
My initial response to “Minimum Advertised Price” (or MAP) was, “What the hell? That’s bloody price fixing, isn’t it?” I was shocked to learn that in the United States, the practice is legal and was recently (2007) upheld by the Supreme Court. Apparently MAP agreements like those involving the Blue Yeti on B&H and Amazon.com are legal. I still find it very interesting that somehow they all ended up on the exact same retail price, right down to the penny and including the free shipping. I may just be your garden variety idiot, but that sure smacks of price fixing to me.
Anyway, I hope this documentation of the hunt for the Blue Yeti was eye opening. I know it was for me. Perhaps it’ll be the first topic on my new call-in talk show coming soon. If I decide to buy a Yeti, that is.
Let the internet buyer be motherfucking aware.