Say what you will about Apple and why its products deserve (or don't deserve) their respective price tags, but here's an interesting, tangential query: how exactly does Apple maintain such consistent pricing across so many vendors? Macworld believes they have the answer -- a multi-faceted strategy called price maintenance. In short, Apple leverages low resale margins, incentives and tight product control to maintain its prices.
Chances are you've noticed it yourself -- not only does an iPod Mini sell for $329 on Apple's website, but also sells for the exact same price at big-box retailers like Best Buy and Wal-Mart. The same goes for most Apple products, in fact, whether it's an iMac, a Macbook Pro or an iPhone. While common tactics like setting an MSRP (manufacturer's suggested retail price) are often used to set prices, big discount stores like Wal-Mart famously ignore such suggestions, undercutting competitors and making up the difference with volume sales.
According to Macworld, Apple's first tactic is wholesale pricing that isn't much cheaper than retail pricing. Best Buy can attest to this, although exact numbers remain a closely guarded secret. By minimizing reseller profit margins, Apple ensures those stores won't stray too far from MSRP. Any reseller that dares to slash its prices risks losing what little profit there was to be had on those shiny stacks of expensive Cinema displays and Macbook Airs.
Apple's second strategy is rewarding resellers who play by their rules. Although profit margins tend to be slim, Apple issues incentives to retailers who keep their prices close to a declared "minimum advertised price". For retailers who go too far over or too far under these prices -- no incentives for you. Once again though, what these incentives are remains a mystery.
Legal though it may be, Apple's price maintenance strategy is guaranteed to elicit controversy. However, it does offer some benefits to both retailers and customers.
Apple's homogenous pricing theoretically helps small retailers. Although Tom's Computer Shop won't make the same fortune Best Buy makes with volume, Tom can compete with Best Buy's prices (and certainly compete with service). If Tom's hoping to get rich though, he'll likely want to diversify and start servicing those Macs, too.
Stable, well-controlled pricing and products also helps Cupertino's products retain their resale value -- a somewhat beneficial phenomenon for Mac and iDevice owners looking to trade-up.
Despite all the uniformity in pricing, one way customers can get a substantial discount on Apple products is buying refurbished. Although refurbs aren't for everyone, Apple does offer the same warranty on its refurbs as it does its new products -- that's at least a marginally comforting incentive to buy refurbished.