catalogs: Call/E-mail for Price... why?

I keep seeing this in online and print mail order catalogs… anything that gets over a certain price, they want you to call them up before they’ll tell you the price.
What’s the point of this?
Sometimes it’ll say too low to print or something to that effect, which sounds so phony to me.

Many manufacturers establish an MRSP - Minimum Retail Selling Price - for their goods and forbid legitimate resellers from advertising anything under that price. The restriction is just on advertising, however: they can still sell the object for less. They just know that they’re liable to be cut off from getting future deliveries if they break this rule publicly.

It’s probably not a scam if you see this in the catalog of a reputable operation. That doesn’t mean that less-than-reputable firms don’t exist and don’t take advantage of this, but it’s not a scam in and of itself.

In the office supply business, and everything else I’ve ever seen, MSRP is list price (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price, not Minimum… )

Nobody sells at MSRP anymore. It’s always less…sometimes a LOT less.

Anyway, here’s an example of “Call for Price” in our office supply catalog.

The office supply catalog that we distribute to our customers is supplied by our main vendor and they determine the selling price and print it in the catalog. The catalogs are imprinted with our company name and contact info on the cover. They figure the markup based on what most of the big stores like Office Depot, Office Max and Staples sell the stuff for (this would be “market price” which is an average of what most consumers pay for it). The prices are anywhere from 10% to 50% below the MSRP or retail price.

When you get to the paper section, they show “Call for Price” on most items. The reason is that the price of paper fluctuates monthly. The catalogs are good for 6 months. If they list the price of a case of letter size paper at $24.95 when the catalog comes out, and then a month later my cost goes up to $26.00, I would still have to honor the $24.95 price and would be losing $1 a case.

Because the catalog lists “Call for price”, I can increase the price of paper to whatever it takes to make a couple dollars and I’m not violating the trust of my customers by selling higher than the catalog price.

This actually happened to us last year when our selling price for a case of paper went from $22.45 to $28.95 over a 6 month period. We didn’t do it to make more money, we did it because it costs us more…we’re actually making about $1 less on a case then we were before.

BTW, MSRP on a case of standard white 84 Brightness letter size paper (5000 sheets/case) is around $45.00. People would probably stop using their printers and copiers if they had to pay that much for paper.

I knew as soon as I posted that I should have looked up MSRP and not relied upon my memory. Thanks for the correction.

But while it’s true that call for price can mean fluctuating prices in some industries, it’s just not true that nobody sells for MSRP.

Levi’s is one famous exception, and one of the brands that can’t be advertised below MSRP. And sells that way much of the time.

“Call for prices” has one meaning, but “we can’t give you the price because it’s too low” has a completely different one, in my experience.

There’s a very good reason why some manufacturers don’t allow catalog and online retailers to advertise low prices on their products: they don’t want to screw small dealers.

When it comes to large-ticket items (say, over $1,000), a large national retailer can get a better volume discount when they buy stock at wholesale prices. Then they can pass those savings on to the the customer. They can sell an item at a drastically lower price than can a small, local business.

A couple examples: Rickenbacker guitars. If you look at an online music store, Rickenbackers always say “call or e-mail for price”. Rickenbacker requires that the MSRP be advertised, or no price at all. I am interested in buying a Rickenbacker bass guitar, so I e-mailed for the price and saw that the dealer was offering a substantial discount. My local music store couldn’t possibly sell that bass for that price.

Apple Computer has the same, or very similar rules. If you look at various Mac catalogs, you’ll see that all of them have roughly the same price on the same Apple item, and that it’s always within $5.00 or so of the prices on Apple’s own Web site. The online dealers differentiate from each other by including different free items with the purchase. One dealer may offer a free printer with the purchase of a G5 Mac, while another dealer might include a software package. But the price of the computer itself is the same price you’ll find on Apple’s Web site, or at your local dealer.

I suspect that there is also the “image” factor. A company may wish to maintain a reputation for producing “high class” items, and so insist upon an appropriate price tag. Admit it - when you pay a lot for something, you value it more, and everybody believes that it’s higher quality than a comparable item with a lower price. I’ll bet most millionaires don’t brag about the great deal they got on their new Mercedes. They want people to know that they paid a lot. Indeed, when you see a Mercedes you assume that the person driving it is wealthy.

This is very common in camera discount houses advertised in the back of the photo mags, even the very reputable ones, for reasons mentioned already.

However, do be aware that in at least some cases their objective is to get you on the phone to try to do a hard sell. I had an amazing experience with one of those places trying to buy a video camera. They tried to do a bait & switch on me. They quoted me the price on the camera I wanted, and after a lot of talk to get me invested in the call, switched me to a “closer”. He started to tell me why this wasn’t a very good camera, and tried to interest me in a more expensive camera. You wouldn’t think it would be that easy to make a hard sell on the phone but these guys are hard-boiled and pretty good. But I basically told him to pound sand and bought what I wanted somewhere else.

In the high end bicycling industry, selling consistently, without sales etc., below the MSRP will indeed get you, “cut off.”

Okay, I see why this is. In these situations, the products are ones that can be only sold by authorized dealers. If you sell below the minimum, you lose your authorization and effectively lose the ability to sell the product.

If the manufacturer’s set minimum prices on everything, it would make things a lot easier for small business like mine. I wouldn’t have to talk price when trying to get a new customer, I’d be able to sell them on customer service. Nowadays, most people only care about price and don’t care what kind of hoops they have to jump through to save a few cents.

Exactly. The bicycle industry is one that still depends in the extreme upon real local retailers that can offer more than just cost advantages.

Exactly. The bicycle industry is one that still depends in the extreme upon real local retailers that can offer more than just cost advantages.

I’ve seen quite a few of those in the chemical catalogs. Sometimes it’s because the chemical in question is not often made or stocked, so they’d have to cook up a batch special.