Carol Lorenzen recently emailed a question: Why don't Weber grills ever gone on sale? It's a good question and one in which "Weber grills" could easily be replaced with Apple electronics, Trek or Cannondale bikes, Bang & Olufsen electronics, Louis Vuitton handbags, Swiss watches, and Maytag's top-of-the-line washers and dryers.


It's a policy that manufacturers call MAP or minimum advertised pricing. In exchange for a retailer accepting advertising dollars from the manufacturer (Weber, for example), the retailer will not advertise those items below a certain price. You may recall seeing some newspaper or magazine ads that included the words "Call for price" to avoid breaking the rule and having the manufacturer slap the retailer's wrist or pull its line. Today you're more likely to see "click for price" when shopping online, said Robert Ellis, director of operations and online information at Checkbook, a Washington DC nonprofit which also publishes Twin Cities Consumers' Checkbook.

Today, consumers are more likelyaffected by unilateral pricing when a manufacturer tells retailers that if they sell an item it must be sold at full-price (MSRP). This is not considered price fixing because the manufacturer is making all of its retailers comply (and selling their product is optional), said Ellis.


Some manufacturers such as Apple and Bang & Olufsen make this compliance ironclad by selling almost exclusively within their own stores.   


So how can consumers break the price fix? They can find a retailer who isn't taking any ad money from the manufacturer. Those retailers have nothing to lose because they aren't taking ad money. You can also find lower prices at stores going out of business or discontinuing the line. When Frank's closed its stores in the Twin Cities a decade ago, the Weber grills were all marked down. Finding a floor model on sale can also be a good deal. You might find a Weber grill on sale during Warners Stellian warehouse sale. The next one is Nov. 12-13.

Keeping prices high is to protect a big brand from being diluted, although some brands (Vera Wang at Kohl's and Missoni aty Target) appear to embrace it. The middle-of-the-road shopper loves it, but consumers who buy premium brands for exclusivity feel compromised. 

If you've found a good source for buying MAP or unilateral brands ON SALE, please share.