JEFF CORBETT: A window to the retail wars

My wife says we need a cat door, one of those flaps that fit into a door or a wall, and after weighing the options she's decided she wants it fitted into a glass panel of our rear sliding door. I concur, of course, and so I ring a glass business to ask if it will cut the required hole in the panel.

No way, the glass person tells me. Sliding door panels are toughened glass and cannot be cut, but, she offers, the panel can be replaced with a pane that has the hole cut before the glass is toughened. How much? About $700. Thank you.

Now, you'll be thinking exactly as I did. Why don't the cats continue to use the front or back door? Maybe, even, why let them through the door in either direction? For that matter, why have cats?

Well, they are my wife's cats, the three of them, and while they're inside at night they're free to come and go during the day. As cats should be.

There is, though, a problem. When my wife and I are away, as we are more often these days, the remaining residents upstairs are not so attentive to their mother's cats' needs to vacate the premises in the mornings and the result is not always pretty.

So, at $700 for a hole in the glass we'd have to cut a hole in a wall, which I could probably do if it didn't have to be neat. But first I phoned another glass business, which quoted $500. The price was definitely heading in the right direction, so I phoned another business, $360. Same job, same glass, and at a pinch that price was doable.

Next the cat flap. My wife didn't want any old cat flap that would let in any old cat. No. She wanted a clever cat flap that would read the cat's microchip and open only if the microchip is on the approved list. And she wanted one that had a curfew setting, so that the flap wouldn't open to allow cats out between, say, 7pm and 6am. She also wanted a bigger-than-usual flap in case one of the cats got fat.

Yes, I know you're wondering whether I need a new cat flap or a new wife.

What appears to be the main Australian online business selling these particular flaps, which are called SureFlap, had just what my wife wanted for $247.50, say $250, with an adaptor to fit a glass hole for $30, all with $25 delivery. Give or take a couple of dollars, $300. The pet shop chain that sells this particular cat flap asks much the same price, even without delivery.

Let's stay at home, I suggested to my wife, and we can provide the cats with uninterrupted door service.

Try eBay, she said. I'd not looked for the cat flap on eBay because I'd assumed those offering such a device would be based overseas, and rightly or wrongly I see buying a fancy electronic cat flap from overseas as buying it without warranty. But I did as directed, and there was a Perth-based pet-supply business with a 99.9 per cent positive rating offering me the cat flap with glass adaptor and delivery for $190.

It's on its way, and I'm still struggling with how we can spend $550 on a door for cats. But not aloud.

I'm also interested in the difference between these prices.

The first glass business I approached is the most well known of the three because it spends more on marketing, and it commands a higher price because it has to recoup marketing costs and because it can. While buyers these days are more savvy and more likely to phone around, obviously enough don't.

We all know about the difference in prices between retailers online and retailers in a bricks-and-mortar shop, and competition has more to do with that than we might imagine.

The pet shop chain that had the cat flap and adaptor for $298 is alone in what it sees as its marketplace while the eBay supplier at $190 is just one of a number in that marketplace, and when you punch SureFlap into eBay they're all there together competing almost exclusively on price.

Increasingly, though, the bricks-and-mortar shop and the online shop are seen by buyers as in the same marketplace, although with price differences like those for the cat flap, the bricks-and-mortar shop might not be in the marketplace indefinitely.

That might not be progress, given that the bricks-and-mortar shop spends money locally, but it is certainly evolution.

Now, you'll be thinking exactly as I did. Why don't the cats continue to use the front or back door? Maybe, even, why let them through the door in either direction? For that matter, why have cats? Well, they are my wife's cats, the three of them, and while they're inside at night they're free to come and go during the day.

Comments