Conference on the preliminary findings of the e-commerce inquiry - A few very selective and biased notes

EC, 6 October 2016.
Programme here.
Catch-up video here.
Contribution from academia (S2)

Some notes on my favourite Session (S3).
Bundeskartellamt (7:02:30)
Asics Decision here.
-- prohibition to sale via marketplaces: no agreement on this specific issue with the EC, feu vert on the others
--- total ban not expressly prohibited in the decision (obiter dictum para. 40: "Des Weiteren sind den autorisierten Händlern im ASICS-Vertriebssystem 1.0 die Bewerbung und der Verkauf über Online-Marktplätze per se – d.h. unabhängig von der konkreten Ausgestaltung des jeweiligen Marktplatzes – verboten. Auch wenn darüber mit Blick auf die vorgenannten und hier festgestellten Kernbeschränkungen nicht mehr entschieden wird, könnten nach Auffassung des Bundeskartellamts auch durch dieses Verbot viele ASICS-Händler daran gehindert werden, mehr und andere Kunden auch außerhalb ihres engen geographischen Vertriebsgebiets schnell und effektiv über das Internet zu erreichen").
- Widespread pressure on retailers towards RPM: How do we deal with that?
Lego, dual-pricing settlement
-- conditions shaping the quality of the distribution of Lego products both on- and offline
Tasks based on the findings and NCAs' case law
-- find a balance between extreme views,
-- keen interest in fostering innovation at the retailers' level and the manufacturers' level (a whole book and a couple of articles written on this, SV, here and ici),
-- seek level playing field (and EU Courts are going to help)
--- CJEU Coty here.
---- Deuter here.

Discussion Round (NCAs and input from the audience)
Geoblocking, territorial restrictions
-- P fragmented e-commerce sector; are restrictions/barriers always justified? Like restrictions on passive sales? Consumer associations complain. Geoblocking Reg might help to fill some possible gaps. EC better placed to deal with it, but NCAs dealing with ban on passive sales within national territory (Galp Energia - bottled gas decision here) - also online.
-- NL not so many complaints - differently from D (should the NL NCA somehow start worrying about it?). Geo-blocking Reg: many issues (applicable law, extension to b2b - territorial supply restraints, etc.)
-- D no complaints on geo-blocking from within D. Cooperation with other NCAs within the ECN (with LUX on car sales - info about this case not found)
--S territorial restrictions, complaints received, not acted upon (imports from lower priced countries banned), EC better placed (if banished within the ECN based on cooperation among some Members risk of consumers in high priced countries better off and in low priced countries worse off - balance necessary, ergo EC's task)
Marketplace, selective distribution
-- NL tension between price comp by retailers and quality driven manufacturers; in general VR are efficient (protect manufacturers' investments, ok if interbrand competition),
-- S new knowledge: marketplaces' use by retailers much lower in S than in D, bans much less prevalent than in D (not sure)
-- P selective distribution cases not frequent (not even offline)
-- D selective distribution systems may go beyond what is necessary to generate efficiencies, for example imposing bans of third party platforms, quite a lot of litigation before D courts - NCA's intervention therefore necessary to influence the shaping  of competition policy (otherwise D courts will shape it totally on their own)
--- Adidas (here) and Asics both included bans of third party platforms: marketplaces are important sales channels for smaller retailers (pretty sure about this one) - 2/3 of their sales.
--- perhaps more a political than an economic question: marketplace shops by both manufacturer and retailer on the same platform - refusal to supply if the latter continues (I would add: see also CMA online posters case, here)
-- e-commerce a priority in D and ECN rather active, EU courts progressing as well (who is missing here?)
-- NL free-riding by manufacturers possibly also an issue (p.105) - "striking" to him "a little bit of an eye-opener"
-- D possible free-riding by manufacturers also to be considered, debate within the NCA itself very useful to decide borderline cases; in general, intervention by CAs can also reduce complexity (answering to Baker&McKenzie)
- Online price transparency, RPM
-- NL, S, no red line for intervention, interest in parallel systems (but which one do you decide to face, practically?)
-- P price transparency a problem in markets prone to collusion - algorithms possibly helping in this regard (US poster case mentioned but strangely not the parallel UK case...)
--- new instruments necessary to tackle collusion in online markets (e.g., data screening employed in the Libor cases)
--- dual pricing and minimum RPM to offset retailers' free-riding strategies, efficiency allegation not grounded (Royal Canin, here)
--- RPM: companies should consider alternative, less restrictive vertical restraints
-- D not stuck to one brand of assessment framework, and making available instruments fit for the online world; case by case inevitable: evolution by interpretion
--- VRBER setting the scene and not easy to circumvent
---- Courts might challenge provisions
-- NL digital content: premium content increasingly important, particularly in an oligopolistic market (merger commitment decision here)
--- market study into the online streaming video sector launched (looking at the issues from various angles; French study also just published, here)


Algorithms and competition

M. Vestager, here . Large friendly letters? "It's true that the idea of automated systems getting together and reaching a...