Understanding MAPs and Why to Avoid Stores That Cheat on Them

cheat

Fact: Most Liars Regularly Lie;  Most Cheaters Regularly Cheat.

Our store, SolarFlairLighting.com, has many products (including our Solar Lamps and Lamp Posts) that have “Minimum Asking Prices,” more commonly known as MAPS.

Resellers usually agree to MAP pricing when they enter contracts with manufacturers and distributors.  The deal: you  can go well below the MSRP, but you can’t go below a certain price point.

Unfortunately, not all stores honor the promise they make to uphold MAPs.  This post discusses why MAPs are valuable for consumers AND merchants,  and what we think about stores who break contractual commitments.

The Theory Behind MAPs?

Most items with MAPs are at the higher end of any product spectrum.  For example, many of our higher quality pond lighting products (Savio, Shimaywa, etc.) have MAP pricing, as does our primary supplier of solar lamps, Gama Sonic.

Why? MAPs let resellers to make a fair profit but are preserve a certain value for the manufacturer.  (Note: Most manufacturers’ with MAPS are more than willing to let stores, when contacted by customers, give often substantial discounts when multiple items are purchased. Assuming the store returns your calls or emails.)

feeding_frenzy

MAPs Encourage Good Customer Service as Opposed to Feeding Frenzies for the Lowest Prices

Let’s face it:  most people buy the cheapest product available online, and there are many tools to help you find them. If a product can be sold with as low as you can go prices, manufacturers of quality items won’t stay in business very long.

Another intention of MAPs is to encourage stores to get sales based on quality customer service, good product descriptions and websites, and sound business practices as opposed to pure price slashing.

The alternative: a feeding frenzy for cheapest prices where ultimately, the sharks win.

How to Tell Which Products Have MAPs

If you use Google or Bing’s shopping to compare prices, or any other website for that matter, products with MAPs are pretty easy to spot.  If the vast majority of stores offer the same item at the same price, odds are that the product has a MAP.

And, odds are you’ll be best served by going with one of the store that uses the MAP.

Why You Should Care About Below MAP Prices

While "Vanishing Packages" are Rare, It Can Happen. Even in the Best Neighborhoods

Below MAP Prices Are Often a Warning Sign

Again, MSRPs are usually far higher than MAPS.

As a consumer, you should know that products with prices below MAPs often mean there’s something fishy going on, such as:

  • A store is dumping dated merchandise (see example of BJs.com below)
  • A seller may have obtained products in a “dubious fashion”
  • The store is desperate for business.

There are a few types of store that usually ignore, or cheat on their MAP commitments:

  • New and inexperienced stores who think they can get away with it
  • Large Niche or Big Box stores who think their volume of sales makes them immune from penalties
  • Stores that don’t care about the important relationship between themselves and their suppliers, often because they aren’t planning to be around long.

Cheaters Cheat. Cheaters Lie. Think You’ll Fair Better?

Cheaters_Cheat_and_Lie

If Someone Cheats on their Partner, How Do They Treat the 3rd Party

Having been in marketing in one form or another for nearly 30 years, I know that the relationship between my suppliers is just as important, or even more so, as that with our customers.

When a company cheats on MAP pricing, they know they can get kicked out of the reseller program. And, the solar world is small one, so being dishonest with one manufacturer is unlikely to help with others.

While many customers return to a store several times, others are one-time buyers.

A person who is dishonest in an ongoing relationship is hardly going to treat short-term relationships with more integrity.

And if you buy from a store that goes out of business or has burned bridges with its suppliers, good luck if you develop a problem with the product down the road.

Example of Dumping Old Stock

We understand that consumers, particularly today, are looking for the best value. But PRICE ALONE does not EQUAL VALUE.  Look at the screen capture below, taken from BJs.com.  It shows a Gama Sonic Lamp Post that is supposed to sell for $179.99.  Note that BJs.com says that the product is “only available on BJs.com.”

Bjs_selling_obsolete_lamps

Well, THIS model of the Low Single-Head Lamp Post is “only available on BJs.com” because it was discontinued two years ago.

The product description notes that:

  • The product uses NiMH batteries (Victorian Solar Lamps were outfitted with the preferred batter, lithium ion, a while back);
  • There is a one year warranty, except for batteries.
caveat_emptor

Caveat Emptor

Because these lamps are technically obsolete and inferior to the other ones that show up  in the same Google Product search, is precisely why this version of the solar lamp is not available elsewhere.

This is blatant product dumping and we say “Shame on You BJs.com” for not clarifying the savings are due to the fact it’s a discontinued model. Especially since the product number has the same model number and name as lamps using newer technology.

The ad also notes that there is no warranty on the batteries. No surprise there: having aged in a box for literally years, they’re probably going to be pretty damned useless within a short period of time.

And, since batteries shouldn’t be stored long-term in side any product, odds are that at least some of the lamps’ batteries have leaked, damaging key components. This might not be evident  immediately but surely means a shorter (and much dimmer) life span.

A deal from BJs? Hardly.  Instead of a savings of $40, it’s a waste of $139.99 .

Making Deals at Any Cost: Including Safety

leds

LEDs and Li-Ion Batteries are Rapidly Evolving Technology that Gets Dated  Quickly

Here’s another “secret” that our customer who have bought several solar lamps from us know:  each time a shipment of new light come in, they tend to be a bit brighter.

Even though the design of the lamps haven’t changed, improvements in technology and manufacturing efficiencies mean the very same model and brand LEDs made 6 months ago is likely to be dimmer than one just off the manufacturing line.

Home Depot is another MAP violator, particularly with their recent obsession with Baytown Solar Lamps.  One way they get around the MAP is by buying tons of lights, often entire shipments.  This cuts off all other merchants from getting the lamps.

It also means that the lamps they sell have been sitting in storage for a long time, and if the price is really low, odds are they are trying to clear out dated merchandise.

Batteries are key to solar lamp performance, and unfortunately, they don’t always age well in boxes.  That’s why we have two manufacturers that insist that lights be installed with six weeks of delivery or the warranty on the battery is void.

Do Newbies of Big Box Stores Really Understand Your Needs?

The short answer: No.

If you go into a Home Depot store (as I have done on a few occasions) and ask about solar lights, you might get the response like the one I got: “Honey, don’t go with solar. Spend the extra money for electric lights.” I felt like saying “Sure thing buddy! Can you fix your plumber’s crack.

bad_customer_Service

Don’t Deal with Stores that Ignore Your Calls, Emails or Comment Forms

If you call a big store, be it a solar light specialty store or a store that sells tons of different items, good luck getting personalized attention.

Most of these stores customer service or sales staff are either too busy with “big orders” to care about the average home owner’s purchase of 1 to 5 lights.

Large stores or those that sell a wide assortment of items may not have knowledge or time to understand your lighting requirements and recommend a light that suits your budget and safety requirements.

Lots of times, for example, one higher cost and higher performing light is not only less money than two or three cheaper lights.

baytown_solar_lamp_pretty_but_not_brightest

Make Sure You Read Product Description Details, Not Just Price. Have Question? Just Ask the Store.

Here’s an example: We recently got a request from a multi-unit residential complex for a quote of 50 Baytown Solar Lamps. (While quite nice for small areas, like decks, there not bright enough for walkways.)

When we told the facility manager that the lights “would not provide a safe experience” for their residents and recommended (at a huge bulk discount) lights that were 4 times as strong, they balked.

Since the residents were primarily elderly and both stairs and a nearby body of water were issues, I submitted a proposal for lights that would meet their needs.

They called us and told us that someone else “gladly sold” them the lights they wanted and was, frankly, a bit smug. Well, sir, here’s a newsflash: our profit margin is about the same for any solar lamp.  Selling customers higher priced lamps doesn’t necessarily mean we make more money.

And congratulations to the winning bidder. When someone gets hurt because the lights aren’t bright enough to prevent an accident, the seller may will be liable for heft civil damages.

By the way, from a liability perspective, it’s often better to have NO lights than subpar lights which provide the feeling of security.

 Copyright 2013, SolarLightingSmart.com, SolarFlairLighting.com

 

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