E-Commerce Eyed by EU|Amid Antitrust Worries

     (CN) — After a 16-month preliminary inquiry into Europe’s e-commerce sector, regulators said Thursday they had antitrust concerns and warned that specific investigations may come down the road.
     The European Commission launched its inquiry in May 2015 as part of its push to a single digital market, which is meant to provide better consumer and business access to goods and services on the e-commerce market.
     But what the regulatory agency found after looking into 1,800 companies and analyzing 8,000 distribution contracts is that the explosive growth of the sector and restrictive business practices may be limiting online competition.
     Specifically, the commission found that two in five retailers face contractual price restrictions from distributors; 20 percent are restricted from specific online marketplaces; and 10 percent are barred from selling their wares in other member states.
     The commission also blasted the practice of geoblocking, which keeps consumers in one member state from downloading digital content from another state. If the practice is the result of contracts between suppliers and distributors it likely restricts competition, the commission said.
     Case-specific investigations will likely be opened according to the commission, although it did not name any specific companies in the announcement.
     “E-commerce has become important for consumers and it has significant impact on the business and strategies of companies,” competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement. “Businesses should have the freedom to determine their sales strategies online. At the same time, antitrust authorities must ensure that they do not engage in anticompetitive business practices. These practices can prevent European consumers from reaping the full benefits of e-commerce in terms of greater choice and lower prices.”

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