In many ways the consumer electronics purveyance scene is a textbook scenario for market forces and their effect on end user price. 

When I first experienced this type of high dollar per unit retailing in the UK in the seventies there was no question that prices could be fixed by a retailer or distributor. 

If anyone had the temerity to ask for a discount at point of sale they would be treated … rudely. 

That wasn’t to say consumers were passive victims of price gouging by any means. There have always been intense competitive forces and in the UK in particular there was a very high level of available information in the Hi fi marketplace through the numerous enthusiast publications. 

I worked in shops in Cambridge in the late seventies and we had quite intense competition for customers between the shops that was brand and service based, but at the same time there was the broader competition that the four local specialist stores in Cambridge had with the High street chains of Laskys and Comet and also with the high turnover central London specialist stores. 

Many times a customer would spend some time listening to different kit in a local business but would then go to London on the train to buy the selected item from a chain store or bulk buying specialist. 

There are always incidents in client interaction that one remembers for far longer than they are perhaps worth. In this instance it was the two young men, students but much better dressed than most undergraduates of the day, who came into our store on the corner of the market Square in Cambridge and wanted a demo on a Teac reel to reel just before closing. Demoing a reel to reel was always an involved operation. My manager told me not to bother as he knew that they would take my time and then just go and buy it in London. I thought if I gave them good service then they would buy it from us … 

They took my time and then left to ‘think about it’ and no doubt went to London that weekend and purchased the deck. The thing I remember most is actually the look on their face after they succeeded in obtaining the demo and were leaving … it was a look that sent a message that I was their social inferior who had just given them a service that they in no way felt beholden to as I was simply there for their convenience. They had only been friendly as far as necessary to obtain the demonstration. 

To this day I remember that look. In a glance it epitomised class and entitlement and may have been formulative in my desire to leave the UK. 

Finding a place in a Hi Fi business in the early eighties in Melbourne was a very different experience of interaction around pricing.By this time in Australia the shopping for consumer goods was longer an Anglo retail culture, I was introduced to hardcore Mediterranean and Asian street negotiators who could take away your underwear along with getting a below cost deal on a Hi Fi system. 

The new Australian retail transactional negotiation culture was a joy to discover, and it advantaged the disadvantaged in a way that empowered a whole crop of new business activity. 

In particular the new Vietnamese Australians who were on the rise in Melbourne in the eighties and nineties were prolific buyers of High Fidelity gear. They would never pay full price, but the they were also honest negotiators who would run you down to the lowest price and then transact. 

Naturally Anglos also learnt to negotiate at point of sale in Australia, however the rules change as they slip from culture to culture. Whereas a pure Greek or Vietnamese negotiation would be both principled and positional with a guaranteed conclusion if all conditions could be met; the learned Anglo version would often be to negotiate hard but then to leave without consummating the transaction. The purpose being to get the “best price’ and then go to another business to get them to beat it. 

It became an art of retail consumer electronics sales to determine the “Honest Injun” of a potential client before undertaking a price negotiation. 

Hi Fi shops became a miniverse for testing new pricing tactics … and at the same time some of the first examples of Trade Practice Infringement under the 1974 act were revealed within the ranks of retailers and distributors locally. 

I believe one of the first significant fines issued by the ACCC was when the manager of the then NAD distibutors went angrily into a Melbourne Hi Fi shop and demanded they stop their discounting of his range. The ensuing fine of $250,000 was enough at the time to mark the end of that distributor as an effective business. 

When I was doing a post graduate management course at RMIT in 1989 it was suggested that we go to the local Hi Fi shops and try out different negotiation styles. To my entertainment he had visited the business in the city I was managing and had undergone a purchase. It was that year I met Michael Porter … the author of “Competitive Strategy” ... putting theory into practice doing a multi buy of Marantz CD65 CD Players and bouncing between the competing stores in the city. 

It's worthwhile at this point just explaining the "Go Price" in Australian consumer electronics, this is simply the intra trade term for the available floor sell price after all the contemporary competitive forces have been taken into account. An effective retail CE salesperson is aware of the Go Price on the products he is selling ...  although times are changing.

These days the capacity for face to face price negotiation has waned at point of transaction. It seems that Google is the new king. In a very literal sense the Google search price has become the Go Price for an item and it is my experience that as long as you offer the item at the Googled price then a potential customer is no longer inclined to contest pricing via a haggle. 

In a way this is price fixing … 

If customers are satisfied not to proceed to ask for a better price because Google is telling them that the product is already offered at the online search engine reveal then the question would be have we unthinkingly bypassed the spirit of the 2010 competition and consumer act? 

It seems to me that consumers have passed up on their ability individually wring a better price and display confidence that the Go Pricing on Google is actually indicative of the Best Price for an item at a particular time. 

To a large degree this is true. 

This begs the question are the Google prices simply been set by the paid advertisers and social media influencers who are thus able to determine pricing while still operating within the constraints of Trade Practices?

However this is a very hard market to manipulate. 

Even if a distributor were to be able finesse a price point on Google search that was profit favourable against the interests of the consumer, the brand and model equivalence competition is so intense that if a purveyor successfully raises the online price it simply makes a competitive brand equivalent sell more of their product. 

Thus if a Yamaha Surround Receiver is somehow schooled to an online Go Price of $2000 without being discounted it simply raises the number of Denon $2000 Receivers that are sold with a Go Price of $1800. 

Of course that is not actually quite how it works in the Hi Fi scene. People who buy good Hi Fi are sometimes referred to as Selfsumers rather than Consumers. These are very high research buyers who are self directed and not generally prone to influence by simple brand advertising tactics.  

A sensible Hi Fi shopper will audition and physically assess a product before purchase and there is huge latitude for personal preferences. 

Thus in the case of the hypothetical Yamaha vs discounted Denon it may well be that on audition the potential consumer actually prefers the distinctive character of the Yamaha and is thus prepared to pay the extra $200 and be happy with their purchase. 

It is definitely not always just about the price … in fact simply pursuing the best price against a specification rather than hunting for a subjectively good quality product is going to end up with an unstaisfactory purchase in this arena. 

This where a business like ours that gives the client the opportunity to audition for example a Yamaha RXA4 against a Denon AVCX3700 and then be open to reasonable and pricipled negotiation is the safe bet for selfsumers in our market category. 

We live in the virtual marketplace of our business environment and are exposed to all the go price influences, short term special prices, close out prices, new model variations etc etc … at the same time as being able to offer a useful comparative demonstration of competing products so as to best allow a potential buyer to choose according to their preference and still negotiate the best price.