The Emperor’s New Clothes? The Commission opens three e-commerce competition investigations


Continuing the trend to all things digital, the European Commission’s competition directorate has recently announced that it has launched three separate investigations into whether certain online sales practices breach EU antitrust rules. In particular, the Commission suggests that agreements entered into by companies in the consumer electronics, video games and hotel accommodation sectors may be depriving consumers of the benefits of cross-border choice in their purchases of relevant products/service.

The context to the investigations is the Commission’s Digital Single Market Strategy and its related sector inquiry on e-commerce, which suggested that the use of online sales restrictions were widespread throughout the EU (previous posts here and here).

The Commission is reviewing whether the companies concerned are “unfairly restricting retail prices” or by excluding customers from certain offers because of their nationality or location (geo-blocking).

To judge by the press release, at least a significant part of the Commission’s concern appears to relate to ‘classical’ infringements of competition law – resale price maintenance and contractual barriers to parallel trade/customer discrimination – which merely happen to have come to light through the sector inquiry and related efforts. The video games inquiry is perhaps the most novel, as this appears to focus most directly upon the use of technical measures to prevent customers from purchasing certain video games, based on their location.

A more detailed review of the Commission’s investigations is on the Bristows CLIPBoard. It is very possible that further enforcement efforts will follow these cases; companies active in e-commerce will want to keep a close eye on these, to ensure that their internal practices and agreements are in line with the latest legal developments. We will be keeping tabs on the investigations as they proceed…