On 2 February 2017 the European Commission (“EC”) on its own initiative launched three separate antitrust investigations into the e-commerce market, focusing on whether the suspected companies active in the consumer electronics, video games and hotel accommodation sectors violate the EU competition rules by preventing consumers (via certain online sales practices) from enjoying fair prices and cross-border offers due to their location/nationality.
In line with the EC’s Digital Single Market Strategy, the investigations are aimed at gathering the market information in order to better understand and (where necessary) to deal with the barriers that hinder cross-border e-commerce, particularly those, which businesses may establish themselves and which are potentially anticompetitive.
Suspected anticompetitive practices
- Retail price maintenance (practices of consumer electronics manufacturers restricting the ability of online retailers to set their own prices for widely used consumer electronics products);
- Geo-blocking (bilateral agreements concluded between game distribution platform and five PC video game publishers that prevent consumers from purchasing digital content/PC video games, because of the consumer’s location or country of residence – via a game “activation key” that is valid only in a particular EU member state), and
- Discrimination on the basis of location/nationality (agreements regarding hotel accommodation concluded between the largest European tour operators and hotels containing clauses that discriminate between customers, based on their nationality or country of residence and preventing customers from seeing the full hotel availability or booking hotel rooms at the best prices).
It would be interesting to follow the developments in relation to these cases, particularly considering that the investigations into consumer electronics and video games are the first ones following some of the competition issues identified in the EC’s competition sector inquiry on e-commerce.
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