1999 was a momentous year for CONTEXT. Not only were we facing the Y2K bug, but at midnight on 1 January 1999, the national currencies of participating countries in Europe, aka the Eurozone, ceased to exist independently. Their exchange rates were locked at fixed rates against each other.
By then we had built up a pretty successful pan-European price tracking and comparison service, PriceWatch. It had depended for years on our ability to monitor prices and VAT rates across different countries and currencies thus enabling customers to perform apples to apples comparisons across a huge swathe of IT products, from desktops to printers to displays.
The service started in the late ’80’s thanks to a chance comment from Unisys: was there anything we could do about tracking prices as the work involved was causing them a headache? We obliged, and started turning out huge folders, updated monthly, filled with pages of indexed specifications and prices, which then graduated into – gasp – an accompanying 3.5” floppy with the data in digital form. Many a CONTEXT old-timer will remember the wrapping and binder duty into the late hours of the night to meet deadlines.
The big question we faced was this: with the introduction of the Euro, was that the death knell for our European Pricing Service? The pundits said yes. Why would any manufacturer pay for data on prices when transparency was assured thanks to the common currency?
Of course, we need not have worried. In fact, if truth be told, the manoeuvring by vendors attempting to rationalise VAT rates and prevent grey market activity gave us more work than ever before. The PriceWatch service grew, and is now an extremely successful component of the suite of information products we provide today across the globe.