Suppliers that seek to restrict online sales via third party platforms (e.g. eBay, Amazon) risk being found to have infringed the EU antitrust rules.
The EU Commission's guidelines on vertical arrangements suggest that a supplier may ban sales over those platforms by requiring that customers do not visit the distributor's website through a site carrying the name or logo of the third party platform. However, in practice, such restrictions are being investigated and struck down.
In Germany, headphone-maker Sennheiser was recently forced by the Federal Cartel Office (FCO) to change the terms of its online-distribution contracts that prevented the authorized dealers of Sennheiser's selective distribution system from selling products over the internet platform Amazon Marketplace. Since Sennheiser had appointed Amazon as one of its authorised dealers, the sale by other authorised dealers over Amazon's platforms could not be prohibited.
Also in Germany, Japanese sports-shoe supplier Asics was forced by the FCO to change its online strategy which banned trading over certain third party platforms, including eBay and Amazon.
And the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is currently gathering information about how suppliers of branded and luxury goods restrict online sales. At this stage, the CMA is engaged only in gathering information. However, previous experience of such exercises suggests that it is likely to spark further and more detailed investigations.
If you would like to discuss these issues please do not hesitate to contact John Cassels at email@example.com
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