EU plans further e-commerce antitrust investigations to empower consumers

The European Commission opened three antitrust investigations into e-commerce businesses in February; now it's planning more.

E-commerce businesses may face further antitrust investigations, the European Union's top competition watchdog has warned.

The European Commission hopes these investigations will lead to more choice and lower prices for consumers, online and off. It has just wrapped up a two-year study of business practices that raise competition concerns in the e-commerce sector, and published its final report on Wednesday.

"Certain practices by companies in e-commerce markets may restrict competition by unduly limiting how products are distributed throughout the EU. Our report confirms that. These restrictions could limit consumer choice and prevent lower prices online," said Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

"Our findings help us to target the enforcement of EU competition rules in e-commerce markets," she said.

That targeting "will include opening further antitrust investigations," the Commission said via email.

In already opened three such investigations back in February.

One looked into the use of geoblocking on the online video game sales platform Steam, on which five game publishers, Bandai Namco, Capcom, Focus Home, Koch Media, and ZeniMax, are suspected of tying game activation keys to particular countries. This could allow them to sell the keys at a lower price in some countries, but prevent players from using those keys to activate the game in countries where the same game is more expensive.

Geoblocking was also a concern in an investigation into online hotel bookings, where the Commission suspects tour operators including Kuoni, REWE, Thomas Cook and TUI of working with hoteliers to link prices or room availability to customers' nationality or country of residence.

The third investigation concerned online sales of domestic appliances and hi-fi systems, where the Commission believes manufacturers may have prevented resellers from setting their own prices for the products.

It's not just about regulating online sales, said Vestager: "There is a need to balance the interests of both online and 'brick-and-mortar' retailers."

Since the earliest days of online sales, some customers have sought advice and tried out products in bricks-and-mortar stores and then gone on to buy the same products for less at online-only stores with lower overheads, which can push physical stores into a spiral of higher costs and fewer sales.

Some manufacturers have sought to balance this by only allowing businesses to sell their products online if they also sell them in a physical store. That's all very well if it leads retailers to compete on customer service as well as on price, according to the Commission.

However, it warned in the report that "Certain requirements to operate at least one brick-and-mortar shop without any apparent link to distribution quality and/or other potential efficiencies may require further scrutiny in individual cases."

Amazon.com, for one, appears ready to face up to such regulatory and contractual challenges. After years of online-only operations, it is starting to sell books and even groceries in downtown stores.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Peter Sayer

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?