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Panasonic rebates removed in a flash

Conflict between consumer electronics and IT channels has been blamed for Panasonic's decision to restrict discounted pricing on a selection of its key digital products.

Tecksel managing director, Leigh Mutimer, said the distributor no longer had access to discount rebates on Panasonic's range of digital cameras and home theatre projectors.

Mutimer said the IT channel had originally been unable to obtain a competitive discount on Panasonic's range of digital cameras, which had been restricted to its consumer electronic and mass merchant partners. In the second half of last year, however, the vendor had opened up the discounts to IT disties.

It reversed the decision on January 1, according to Mutimer, shutting IT distributors out of the rebate scheme for those products without warning.

"The products went like hot scones in November and December," he said. "We had a really good run. The IT channel has now been placed in a non-competitive buying position overnight."

Mutimer said Tecksel still had access to discounted rates on Panasonic business projectors, plasma displays and traditional IT product lines.

"Where products are available through two channels - IT and consumer outlets such as mass merchants and camera stores - they [Panasonic] want to protect that [latter] channel," he said.

Melbourne-based distributor, Multimedia Technology (MMT), has been a Panasonic partner for about 15 years. Managing director, John Hassall, confirmed the vendor had rejigged its discount structure for wholesalers following conflict between channels but said the changes would not have a detrimental effect on MMT.

"We are probably on best break prices with everything we carry. Some of the other distributors don't have the same access," he said. "Panasonic has reviewed the whole structure and all has changed, but I think we're still in a reasonable position.

"It may be that some distributors were selling more aggressively and causing grief to some of the channel."

A Panasonic spokesperson refused to comment on the changes because it was not company policy to discuss dealer pricing structures. While keen to play down the effect of Panasonic's changes, Hassall said discount levels were an ongoing concern for all manufacturers with convergence products.

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He pointed to plasma screens, TV tuners and Microsoft's Media Center Edition platform as some of the digital convergence items blurring the boundaries.

"All of these are causing conflict in the channels - it's a really touchy issue," he said. "Some companies are putting pressure back on the vendors as their traditional space is being eaten into by the IT sides. You can't blame Panasonic for wanting to protect long-serving customers like Harvey Norman and Retravision."

Alloys managing director, David Guttman, was also disappointed Panasonic had chosen to cut the IT channel out of discounted wholesale pricing for digital cameras and projectors.

He said whether or not to give the IT channel access to discounts usually reserved for traditional retail and AV partners was a major conundrum for digital home vendors.

Alloys was investing heavily into multimedia, Guttman said, and planned to launch several new products in the next couple of months that would combine audio-visual, computing, home automation and networking surveillance elements.

"We see all of this converging in the next 6-12 months," he said. "The IT channel will be a larger player than it has been."

Mutimer said Tecksel was now looking for other digital camera suppliers. But several traditional camera manufacturers - including Fujifilm and Kodak - had also elected not to give the IT channel the same discounts offered to consumer stores in order to avoid conflict between the two sales routes.

"Digital cameras are one of those things where they are not as strong as they could be in the IT channel because vendors choose to support the mass merchants and camera stores," he said. "You would think they could allow them through both channels."

But Hassall said he could understand why vendors employed this strategy when digital camera sales were dominated by retail stores and mass merchants.

"It makes no sense for a vendor to offer aggressive rebates to IT people if that puts them in a position where they undermine a large part of their market," he said.