Price Fixing is Legal: Why It Matters

09.09.08 | Consumerism | 0 Comments | by Fred Siegmund

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Savers should beware that the U.S. Supreme Court recently reversed earlier Anti-Trust rulings preventing price fixing.

Under new rules established a year ago, manufacturers are now allowed to fix minimum prices for resale of their products and coerce retailers to stop discounts by cutting off supplies and refusing to sell to them. The practice is called Resale Price Maintenance and can be expensive for savers.

A recent Wall Street Journal article, Price-Fixing Makes Comeback After Supreme Court Ruling, quotes from the Court's ruling that Resale Price Maintenance "could foster competition by giving retailers enough profit to promote a brand or offer better service." In the ruling the phrase "giving retailers enough profit" suggests that retailers should be happy with the decision.

The article quotes many retailers and all of them detest resale price maintenance because it hurts their business. Higher prices definitely hurt consumers.

A discount retailer of baby products was quoted as saying that it "prices a baby car seat made by Britax, the Boulevard Convertible, at $309.99, the manufacturer's minimum. If he didn't, Britax would cut off the supply of a popular product." The retailer is also quoted as saying he could sell the seat of $229 and still make a $50 profit.

However, there is previous experience with Retail Price Maintenance because Congress passed a Fair Trade Act in the 1930s that permitted states to craft their own Resale Price Maintenance. Experience shows it goes with branded products, especially apparel, shoes, consumer electronics and home furnishings and it will raise prices for brand name products.

Savers can save by avoiding brand loyalty and concentrating on price and finding store brands or generic labels.

If the practice catches on, experience shows that retail outlets that go along with resale price maintenance for branded products have a drop in sales at the higher price. Their drop in sales gives them incentive to resell their surplus supplies in the wholesale market to other retailers, especially discount retailers.

Some years back, reselling took place in the designer jeans market where designers were trying to maintain their image with a high price. Jeans were resold as "bootlegged" products to discount retailers. Since the only way for manufacturers to enforce their restrictions is to cut off supplies, it was hard for them to know where the "bootlegged" supplies were coming from and therefore who to cut off.

The courts' ruling is anti-competitive despite the suggestion it could "foster competition." Free enterprise includes the freedom to set price at all levels of the marketing chain. Competition includes price cutting and allows for new entrants who attract customers with a lower price. We suspect that the court has underestimated the power of competition.

In the meantime, take care before you buy and ask yourself if a brand name is really worth it.

Fred Siegmund covers America's jobs as part of work doing labor market analysis and projections for a client base of recruiters, trainers and counselors. Visit him at www.americanjobmarket.blogspot.com

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