Samsung Electronics Co. (005930), Royal Philips NV and Metro AG (MEO)’s Media-Saturn were among companies raided by European Union antitrust officials as part of a probe into suspected online-sales restrictions.
Regulators said companies may have “put in place restrictions on online sales of consumer-electronic products and small domestic appliances,” according to an e-mailed statement yesterday. Such clauses may increase consumer prices or prevent some products being sold online, it said, without citing companies involved in the probe.
“It would definitely be a new era of enforcement for the EU commission” since it “has never ever dealt with these cases,” Andreas Mundt, the head of Germany’s Cartel Office, said at a Brussels conference today. The EU is “very well aware” of similar U.K. and German probes but has rarely examined so-called vertical restraints where manufacturers restrict prices or supplies, he said. He didn’t give details on the EU raids.
The EU examined online sales in 2009 when it proposed rules allowing luxury-goods makers to set some limits on online resellers such as EBay Inc. It is also scrutinizing Apple Inc.’s deals with phone operators and distribution practices.
U.K. and German regulators last month dropped investigations into Amazon.com Inc.’s sales restrictions after it ended a ban on retailers using its site charging less for products they sold on other platforms. Mundt said today that different pricing for online and offline goods was “widespread” and that regulators were ready to examine online retailers’ best-price guarantees.
EU antitrust officials visited a number of companies in several European countries on Dec. 3, Antoine Colombani, a spokesman for the Brussels-based regulator, said yesterday.
Philips was visited by EU officials this week, said Joost Akkermans, a spokesman for the Amsterdam-based company.
“We are fully cooperating with the European Commission but as this is an ongoing case, we cannot comment any further,” Akkermans said in an e-mail.
Media-Saturn, part of Germany’s biggest retailer, said the EU visited it on Dec. 3 and the group “is cooperating fully.”
Samsung, Asia’s largest technology company and the world’s biggest maker of mobile phones, is “cooperating fully with the European Commission,” spokeswoman Rhee So-eui said in an e-mailed statement. “We cannot comment on details at this time.”
Metro’s Media Markt was previously inspected by the EU in 2008 when regulators were seeking evidence for how Intel Corp. used rebates on sales of personal computers to wrest sales away from Advanced Micro Devices Inc.
EU raids on companies don’t always signal that companies violated antitrust rules or that they will be fined.
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