Tiny companies like NetEnforcers -- with only 56 staffers jammed into a dim, spare cubicle farm in Arizona -- wield economic power far beyond their size. These companies scour hundreds of thousands of Web sites daily, looking for retailers offering bargains below the "minimum advertised price," or MAP, set by manufacturers on an array of consumer goods.MAP is slightly different from reseller price maintenance (RPM) in that MAP deals with policies involving advertised price, whereas RPM deals with efforts by a manufacturer to set a selling price, whether advertised or not. Both types of policies are getting a lot of attention these days, and my guess is that the level of attention is likely to escalate considerably in 2009.
When NetEnforcers finds items like cameras, handbags or ovens for sale at too-low prices, as it claims to do 5,000 to 10,000 times a day, it alerts its clients, including Sony Corp., Black & Decker Corp., Cisco Systems, JVC Kenwood Holdings and Samsung.
The FTC is investigating musical-instrument and audio-gear makers for possible MAP-related antitrust violations. And online retailers such as BabyAge.com and HomeCenter.com have sued manufacturers with MAP or similar price-maintenance policies, alleging antitrust violations.