How does Apple keep its prices so regular?

It's not just the iron will of Tim Cook…

Why do you never see Apple products discounted? Everyone knows to shop around if you're buying consumer electronics. It's a market where there are often vast discounts over the recommended retail price, and where buying direct from the manufacturer, if its possible at all, is a way to guarantee you get ripped-off.

Except, it seems, Apple. The company maintains a cast-iron grip over its prices, and a huge quantity of its sales are direct. How does it do it? Macworld's Marco Tabini explains the two interconnected methods it uses.

Firstly, the company only offers a tiny wholesale discount to third-party resellers:

The actual numbers are a closely guarded secret, protected by confidentiality agreements between Cupertino and its resellers, but the difference probably amounts to only a few percentage points off the official price that you find at Apple’s own stores.

That small discount means that most stores can't offer much money off without losing money on every Apple product sold — but it also lowers the motivation for them to do anything with Apple at all. After all, if they make 30-55 per cent per generic Windows laptop sold, they are likely to push them much harder to customers, and may decide there's not even any point in stocking Apple at all.

That's where the second method comes in. Apple offers "substantial monetary incentives to retails who advertise its products at or above a certain price, the "minimum advertised price". Tabini writes:

This arrangement enables retailers to make more money per sale, but it prevents them from offering customers significant discounts, resulting in the nearly homogeneous Apple pricing we are used to.

It also explains why, particularly in the US, where they are more common anyway, mail-in rebates are so common on Apple gear. It allows the retailer to "advertise" the laptop at the minimum price, while still undercutting Apple on the final sale price.

All of that doesn't prevent companies offering discounts on Apple products where they can, though. Both PC World and Amazon UK offer substantial discounts on a couple of Apple laptops, while the company itself offers a lot of under-advertised, but potentially large, discounts for certain groups (not just students, but some professions too). Maybe the old myth is worth busting, and its time to shop around for that company as much as anyone else.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.