MAP monitoring is the process brands use to ensure that sellers follow their minimum advertised pricing (MAP) policy. Brands track their SKUs across online stores and marketplaces, monitor prices, and communicate with sellers to enforce their policy.
It’s a tedious, but crucial process that:
- Protects your brand from price erosion
- Helps preserve your brand integrity
- Creates trust between you and your retail partners
- Reduces bad experiences for consumers
Without MAP monitoring, you can’t do MAP enforcement. And without MAP enforcement, your pricing policy is useless.
While “MAP monitoring” refers to a specific type of pricing policy, it’s essentially just “price monitoring.” MAP policies are the most common pricing policies, but the monitoring process is fundamentally the same for other types of pricing policies.
In this guide, we’re going to cover everything brands need to know about MAP monitoring, including:
- How does MAP monitoring work?
- What are the benefits of MAP monitoring?
- Who should use MAP monitoring?
By the time we’re finished, you’ll know what MAP monitoring entails, if it’s right for your brand, and how to talk through the process with your colleagues. For starters, let’s talk about how it works.
How does MAP monitoring work?
MAP monitoring is an ongoing process. It’s not like a quarterly review or a one-and-done project. To do MAP monitoring effectively, you have to continually keep track of your prices and follow up with sellers who violate your policy.
Track online stores and marketplaces
Your MAP policy defines the lowest price your sellers can publicly display. Depending on how you’ve written your policy, it may govern the in-cart prices they can show people as well. But if you aren’t paying attention to your prices—and sellers figure that out—some of them will ignore your policy altogether. And once they start ignoring your policy, others will have to follow suit to stay competitive.
Tracking your prices everywhere your products appear is one of the most vital components of MAP monitoring. The more gaps there are in your ability to monitor prices, the easier it will be for rogue sellers to slip through the cracks and undermine your policy.
The more SKUs and sellers you have, the harder it gets to keep track of your prices. Especially when you add unauthorized sellers to the mix—because your products may appear in stores and marketplaces you hadn’t planned to sell in.
Anytime someone violates your policy, you need to know. The moment one seller goes rogue and drops their price too low, it triggers a domino effect—or as we often call it, a race to the bottom. Other sellers use repricing software to automatically adjust their price based on what their competitors are doing.
You don’t just want to check your prices periodically, waiting for the violations to come pouring in. When there’s a problem, you want to catch it early and know who started it.
Check your pricing constantly
Real-time pricing data is the gold standard for MAP monitoring. If you’re manually checking your prices or using map monitoring software that only pulls data a few times per day (or worse, only on certain days of the week), you’re leaving huge opportunities for sellers to violate your price undetected.
Good retail partners are going to respect your policy because they care about their relationship with you and recognize that they benefit from your long-term success. But not every seller is a good partner. And some will test your MAP monitoring capabilities to see what they can get away with. They can use software to program pricing changes and slip temporary cuts in under the radar.
Prowl is one of the only MAP monitoring solutions that can actually deliver real-time pricing data. Our proprietary “spidering” technology crawls the web, monitoring everywhere your products appear. When a price drops too low, it sends a vibration through a spiderweb, and PROWL sends you an alert.
Enforce your policy
Monitoring your prices is only half the battle. It doesn’t do any good if you catch thousands of MAP violations but don’t do anything about them.
Your MAP policy should clearly lay out exactly what will happen when a seller violates your policy. Hopefully, you’ve worked with an antitrust lawyer to create penalties that fit your goals and your circumstances. This sets clear expectations for sellers and helps ensure that you enforce your policy equally, regardless of who happens to be following up with sellers.
Whatever penalties your policy defines, you should plan to have templated responses to follow up with your sellers. You don’t want to risk showing favoritism to any seller—no matter how good your relationship with them is—because that can get you into legal trouble. As sellers accrue violations, make sure you have a system for tracking how many violations they’ve accumulated and where they’re at in your penalty progression.
You should follow up on every MAP violation, but it’s also helpful to recognize that the first violator (the one who moved first) is the biggest problem. If a seller is consistently triggering a race-to-the-bottom pricing war, you probably need to take steps to remove that seller.
Let your lawyer handle appeals
Inevitably, some sellers will appeal to your MAP violation notices. They’ll argue that someone else violated your price first. Or that it was a glitch. Or a human error. Or a misunderstanding on your end. Whatever their reason, it doesn’t matter. Direct them to your lawyer.
The last thing you want is for a seller to sue and argue in court that you’ve given an unfair advantage to another seller or formed some sort of agreement that restricts competition. Sending appeals to your lawyer will ensure that you’re never in danger of showing favoritism.
The challenge of manual MAP monitoring
At this point, you might be wondering: can you even do MAP monitoring manually? The answer is not very well. With even just a handful of SKUs and sellers, it would be pretty easy for MAP violations to slip by undetected.
If a seller changed their price for a few days, would you notice? What if it was only a couple of hours? If one seller violated your policy and the others followed suit to stay competitive, would you have any way of knowing who moved first?
Even if you only focused on your most important SKUs, most brands would find manual MAP monitoring too difficult to keep up with. A human simply can’t watch enough places at the same time.
(Not to mention, a seller can still violate your policy when your employees are off the clock.)
Automating the process
MAP monitoring software like Prowl was built for this job. These programs automatically pull your pricing data and compare it to your policy. Most MAP monitoring software pulls that data periodically, and some can only monitor a limited number of locations. PROWL compares your policy to real-time pricing data and monitors an unlimited number of SKUs across an unlimited number of online stores, plus more than 20 marketplaces.
Any time Prowl detects a MAP violation, it sends you an alert. Every violation is displayed in a dashboard, and you can easily explore your data to see violations over time, violations associated with particular sellers or SKUs, and more. Prowl also captures screenshots of every violation, so you can prove it if you have to.
Still, MAP monitoring isn’t something you want to completely automate either. If your software automatically fires off violation notices to your sellers, you run the risk of making empty threats. PROWL lets you send an unlimited number of MAP violation letters at once, but you want a real employee to know they’re going out, who they’re going to, and how that impacts your relationship with that seller. Are you placing a hold on their distribution? Was that their final “strike”? What needs to happen next?
Without automation, MAP monitoring is an impossible task. It’s more than a full-time job. But when you can automatically keep track of violations and effortlessly respond to sellers, it becomes a process one person can manage.
What are the benefits of MAP monitoring?
When done right, MAP monitoring brings a lot of benefits to your brand. You can repair the damage that’s already been done to you and your sellers, and you can reduce the likelihood of damage in the future.
MAP monitoring protects your margins
Sellers that violate your MAP policy are often just looking to get a temporary advantage. They’re trying to win Amazon’s buy box, or cut ahead of sellers that offer better service.
Some sellers have significantly lower overhead than others. If someone is selling out of their garage and they’re the only employee, they can afford to go much lower than retailers. So when your other sellers match the violator’s price (or go one cent lower), the violator may just keep going lower and lower until nobody is making a profit selling your products.
In a race-to-the-bottom price war, everyone loses—especially you.
When paired with solid MAP enforcement, MAP monitoring protects your margins by keeping your prices where they’re supposed to be.
MAP monitoring preserves your brand integrity
A byproduct of having too many MAP violations is that they disrupt your brand integrity. When consumers see radically different prices depending on where they encounter your products, your brand can’t create cohesive experiences.
Consumers will come away from encounters with your brand with very different understandings of your brand’s value, and perhaps even different perceptions of your product’s quality. By normalizing your prices, MAP monitoring helps consumers have a shared understanding of what your brand is worth.
MAP monitoring builds trust with your sellers
Believe it or not, your sellers want you to monitor your pricing and enforce your policies. Your best partners are trying to respect you and follow your guidelines, so it’s frustrating to them when their competitors violate your policy and get away with it.
They don’t want to get into pricing wars with sellers that don’t care about margins. And if you aren’t willing to put in the work to monitor and enforce your MAP policy, they may not be willing to continue putting in the effort to sell your product and deal with less scrupulous sellers.
MAP monitoring reduces bad customer experiences
Price is one of the biggest factors consumers use when deciding where to buy. Everyone wants to get the best deal they can, and it’s easy for people to assume that wherever they buy your products, they’ll have the same experience.
But that’s not how it works when you leave MAP violations unchecked. Your worst sellers (the ones that don’t care about margins or long-term relationships with you or your customers) are going to have the lowest prices. And that means more of your customers will have bad experiences—which they’ll associate with your brand.
Effective MAP monitoring levels the playing field by removing price from the equation. So your sellers can focus on offering the most competitive service and benefits. (In other words, they’re battling to provide the best customer experience.)
It keeps sellers from taking advantage of your brand
Over time, as sellers learn that you’re taking MAP monitoring seriously, you’ll see fewer violations. Sellers will be less willing to mess with your prices because they know that the consequences aren’t worth the temporary advantage it gives them.
Assuming you created a comprehensive MAP policy, you’ll also have a system in place for removing sellers who consistently cause problems—so you won’t have to deal with them in the future.
Who should use MAP monitoring?
Depending on your product catalog, your seller list, and your company’s maturity, you might feel like you don’t need MAP monitoring right now. But if your products are being sold on multiple websites or marketplaces, you’ll want to invest in MAP monitoring at some point.
If you’re not sure you need MAP monitoring, there are some warning signs you’ll want to pay attention to.
When there are too many sellers on one marketplace—or too many unknown sellers—odds are someone will start playing pricing games to get an advantage. Unknown sellers are less likely to care about your brand or their margins. And if a marketplace is crowded, the lowest-quality sellers will start thinking about dropping their price to stay competitive.
Some signs mean you should’ve started MAP monitoring a long time ago. If there is a lot of variance in your product’s price from one seller to another, you need to put your foot down and establish the lower limit your products can be priced at. Everyone’s already messing with your price because they weren’t worried about what you’d do about it.
And if your authorized sellers are complaining about price fluctuations, you need to start paying closer attention before they decide to stop carrying your products.
Level up your MAP monitoring capabilities
MAP monitoring is critical to your long-term success as an ecommerce brand. Protecting your price doesn’t just benefit you. It serves your customers and your sellers, too.
Prowl offers the best protection brands can get. With real-time pricing data and a convenient dashboard for tracking and responding to MAP violations, you can trust that violators will never slip through the cracks, and MAP monitoring will feel a lot more manageable.
Schedule a demo to see Prowl in action.