EU opens antitrust probe into online sales

The European Commission (EC) has launched three separate investigations to assess if certain online sales practices breach European Union (EU) antitrust rules, preventing consumers from enjoying cross-border choice and being able to buy consumer electronics, video games and hotel accommodation at competitive prices.

“E-commerce should give consumers a wider choice of goods and services, as well as the opportunity to make purchases across borders,” said commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy. “The three investigations…focus on practices where we suspect companies are trying to deny these benefits for consumers.

“The cases concern the consumer electronics, video games and hotel accommodation sectors. More specifically, we are looking into whether these companies are breaking EU competition rules by unfairly restricting retail prices or by excluding customers from certain offers because of their nationality or location.

The Commission said that although goods and services are increasingly traded over the internet worldwide, cross-border online sales within the EU are only growing slowly. The EC’s digital single market strategy identifies various regulatory barriers that hinder cross-border e-commerce and proposes different initiatives to address these.

However, there are also indications that businesses may themselves establish barriers to cross-border online trade, with a view to fragmenting the EU’s single market along national borders and preventing competition. The Commission said that the inquiry will gather market information in order to better understand the nature, prevalence and effects of these barriers and to assess them in light of EU antitrust rules. The three investigations will tackle the specific issues of retail price restrictions, discrimination on the basis of location and geo-blocking.

The companies under investigation are:

Consumer electronics manufacturers: Asus, Denon & Marantz, Royal Philips and Pioneer.

Video games: Valve Corporation, owner of the Steam game distribution platform, and five PC video game publishers, Bandai Namco, Capcom, Focus Home, Koch Media and ZeniMax.

Hotels/tour operators: Kuoni, REWE, Thomas Cook, TUI and Meliá Hotels.

 

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