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Electronics giants, fashion houses bar online discounting

Rip-off Britain or rip-off World?

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A new Web discount retailer yesterday slammed Panasonic and Sanyo for refusing to let it sell their goods online.

Intersaver.co.uk offers brown and white goods at up to 35 per cent off list price. But not Panasonic and Sanyo.

In interviews with the FT, the electronics giants variously cited the "the value-added services the retailer is able to offer" and "quality criteria" for their refusal to trade with Intersaver.

Yeah right. This is a text-book example of Rip-off Britain at its worst, with manufacturers using restrictive distribution to artificially maintain prices and protect margins of incumbent retailers.

Under European competition, this is illegal. And if there's any competition lawyer out there that would like to expand upon this, we'd be delighted to publish your opinions.

Of course, the Panasonics and Sanyos could -- and do -- argue that they need to protect their brands. But this argument holds little weight, considering that you could walk into just about any supermarket these days and walk away with a fistful of branded consumer electronics. And the UK's big high street electronics retailers Dixons, Curry's and Comet are not exactly upmarket.

Manufacturers at the fashion-end of the market -- perfume and clothes are two obvious examples -- trot out the appropriate retail venue argument. Levi's refuses to let Tesco sell its jeans for example.

This bring us to Boo.com, the extravagently funded Web sportswear retailer, which opened six months late, but in time for Christmas.

On launch day a couple of weeks back, an FT article revealed Boo.com's decision not to sell clothes at a discount. We use the word decision lightly -- Boo.com had to agree to sell clothes at list price, or else it wouldn't get manufacturer franchises. This sucks. That ain't Rip-Off Britain - that's Rip-Off World.

Boo says it will distinguish itself by the quality of its service. Will that be enough? We don't think so. Imagine how far Amazon would have got if it sold all its books at list price. Does anyone think Amazon is downmarket because you can get a bargain or two there. Boo will find the going much tougher because of its falling into line behind rip-off manufacturers.

Oh, and good luck to Intersaver.co.uk. ®

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