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A Stranger in the Alps
October 22, 2010 - 12:52 PMI needed a haircut. Bad. My cutter is down at Queen and Bathurst.
So at 12:30 on Thursday, October 14th, I paid her a visit.
On the way, I popped into Criminal Records. I thought I'd check and see if they had any of our new arrivals and see how we compared on price. I asked the guy behind the counter if he had Grouper's Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill. He told me, "It's impossible to get." I thought that was odd considering they’d been repressed and at that moment I had a crate full back at the shop and had advertised it heavily on our site. I guess he doesn't keep on top of what's going on in the industry or at his competition. Either that or he just can't find a source and doesn't want to let on that someone else in the city has them.
I decided to ask about a better-known title: the Dead Weather Triple Decker 12", one of our recent exclusives. He was bound to know that we had it--even if he wasn't watching the competition, some of his customers surely were. They would have told him we had it. And that's what I expected him to say: "No, only Vortex had that title but they sold out quick and they're now going for crazy prices on eBay." In the end, that's sort of what he said to me, a complete stranger, but he was a little more verbose. Allow me to paraphrase:
"Yeah, I got a box full in the back." I raised my eyebrows and he laughed and said, "No, I'm just kidding. They made three hundred for the world. No one has them. They're gone."
“So no one in the city had them?”
"Well, they sent some to Vortex of all places. No one knows why--it doesn't make any sense."
"Well, they're not a serious record store. No one in the city thinks they are." The dude was truly pissed that Third Man didn't send him any of the twelve inches. "Jack White must have been in the city and hit their store and liked it because no one even knows who they are." (To my knowledge, Jack has never shopped at Vortex. Prince has. Jonny Greenwood has. Gord Cumming has. But not Jack White.)
"No one knows who they are? They've been in business for thirty years."
"Just… in all the polls. Vortex doesn't even rate."
"Really? I could have sworn that on the BlogTO poll of best record stores in Toronto they came in second. And you didn't come in first."
"That was CD stores. For vinyl they came in, like… twelfth!" Actually, we came in eighth, but whatever. "And their prices?!”
"So you can't get the Grouper vinyl?"
"No one can. I checked into it for a guy the other day."
"Well, she has a new seven inch coming out. Can you get that?"
He looked it up on his computer. "Yeah, but we won't. No one will. It's $20, which for a seven inch is insane."
Knowing we'd be offering it for a little more than half that, I left in disgust.
If you weren’t aware, Criminal advertises on their web site that it's a "fact" that they "have the lowest overall prices for new CDs and new Vinyl anywhere." (It actually says "anywhere"!)
As my grandma used to say, "They're trying to put fifty pounds of mud in a five pound bag."
Readers of our FAQ will know that I alluded to Criminal's bogus claim (without naming names) over a year ago. There, I also stated that Vortex does not guarantee the best prices in the city as doing so would be a false promise and Vortex doesn't make false promises. We still stand by that lack of guarantee.
So, how do I know that Criminal's claim is bogus? Because there are multiple sources for most items. Each source has its own prices, methods of shipment, and deals they come up with for their customers, the retail stores. Some sources are harder to find than others and prices can vary by a dollar or two or more. I’ve seen box sets vary in price at different distributors by as much as $80. Occasionally I’m able to retail items for less than my competition can purchase them for wholesale. I’m sure they have finds like that as well.
It is impossible for anyone, us and Criminal included, to know all sources. Anyone who doubts that need only compare our now-empty crate of Groupers to Criminal’s overflowing bin of "impossible to get".
So, if it's not a fact that they have the lowest prices, how can they make that claim? Well, according to the Competition Bureau (an agency of the Federal Government), they can't. Legally. The Competition Act contains provisions prohibiting false or misleading representations and deceptive marketing practices in promoting the supply and use of a product or any business interest. Emphasis mine.
I know what you're thinking: just because I'm cheaper on a Grouper 7" doesn't mean Criminal is committing fraud. You're right.
Enter Mikey B., Vortex Regular #482.
Last year when I created the FAQ, Mikey knew I was alluding to Criminal. But he thought I was full of it. So he went through our recent arrivals bin and wrote down some titles and prices and emailed Criminal for a quote. Then he emailed me the following list along with the comment, "I owe you a coke." Why did he owe me a coke?
Vortex Is Cheaper
Dirty Projectors - Rise Above
Balmorhea - All Is Wild…
Mum - Yesterday Was Dramatic
Sufjan Stevens - Michigan
Sufjan Stevens - Illinoise
Explosions in the Sky - The Earth Is Not…
Criminal Is Cheaper
Animal Collective - Feels
Explosions in the Sky - I Miss Everyone
Akron / Family - Set 'Em Wild…
When BlogTO ran its recent poll and numerous people in the comments remarked that Criminal had "the best prices", Mikey emailed the shop again with a lengthier list. Unfortunately, Criminal only provided prices on eight of the titles. The easy-to-find-and-be-competitive-on eight. Mikey sent me his findings:
Vortex Is Cheaper
Magnetic Fields - 69 Love Songs
Budos Band - III
M Ward - Amnesia
Godspeed - F#...
Criminal Is Cheaper
Joy Division - Closer
Deer Hunter - Halcyon Digest
Tool - Lateralus
My Morning Jacket - Tennessee Fire (though yours is 180g; I don't think theirs is as they have the older pressing)
I asked Mikey if their guarantee meant they'd match our prices. He emailed them about it and the two parties corresponded. Here's the result, edited/re-ordered to flow as a conversation and spelling corrected to save Mikey embarrassment:
Mikey: My other price quote is from my regular shop, Vortex at Yonge and Eglinton. On the eight titles you quoted me on their combined price is $15 less than yours. So, as to your guarantee, what does it mean? Will you beat their prices or what?
Criminal: We won't match every single price, as I'm sure they wouldn't match prices on all the special order items that we would be cheaper on.
Mike: The big difference between you and them is that they don't advertise that they "guarantee" lowest prices in the city. The manager of Vortex insisted to me that you wouldn't back up your guarantee if called on it and I thought for sure he was wrong.
Criminal: There was no intent at all to deceive. If you averaged out the prices & included back catalog we believe that we truly do have the overall lowest prices.
My mind, it boggles.
Here's another direct quote from one of Criminal's emails: "We have the lowest overall prices of any retail store (physical location) in the city. By overall we mean if you were to do an overall average of stock, our overall average cost would be lower."
It seems that what they're saying--what they claim as a fact and a guarantee on their web site--is that if you buy their entire inventory and average it out, they'll have a cheaper cost per unit price. The claim does seem a little disingenuous, doesn't it? One might even call it misleading. Are they completely unaware that the depth of new vinyl at Rotate dwarfs theirs and that high-priced items that Rotate is risking stocking (risking because they can't return them if they don't sell) in order to offer a great selection to their customers makes an "average price" an absolutely useless metric? Like you, I don't think they're unaware of that. They're just ignoring it and attempting to use it to their advantage.
Criminal (and Rotate and some of the other shops) beat us on prices all the time. And we beat them all the time. The difference between Criminal and everyone else is that everyone else is up front about this. To my knowledge, Criminal is the only store in the city with a "guarantee". Unfortunately, it isn't worth the pixels it's written on. And pixels are pretty cheap.
Cue my grandma. And the Competition Bureau.
Addendum: A big congratulations to Rotate for winning that poll. Though we think we kick ass at used cd/dvd/vinyl, we've only been doing new vinyl for a year; I think we're doing a fine job at it but our store's focus is definitely used product, regardless of what this blog implies.
Had I known about that poll while it was running, Rotate definitely would have gotten my vote.
Update: Criminal has now changed their marketing material, removing the words fact and guarantee.
Vortex. 2309 Yonge Street. Toronto, Ontario, Canada. M4P 2C6. 416-483-7437
All content © 2009.
All content © 2009.