On 28 November 2013, the German Federal Cartel Office (FCO) announced that Gardena, a German-based manufacturer of gardening tools, had made a commitment to not discriminate between online and off-line dealers in its rebate policy.
The FCO opened a case against Gardena after receiving complaints from Gardena’s online dealers alleging that its new rebate system favored off-line sales. The FCO found that the new system tied the level of rebates to the type of distribution channel through which the products were sold. The system was structured in a way that only off-line sales could enjoy the full benefit of the rebates. As a result, the FCO took the view that the policy created a prohibited dual pricing system.
Andreas Mundt, President of the FCO stated that, while manufacturers can take account of difference circumstances of online and off-line distribution systems, they should not “eliminate or penalize online sales.” He also noted that the FCO is “receiving a large number of complaints alleging restrictions against online sales.”
The FCO has pursued a number of other cases relating to anticompetitive conduct in the e-commerce sector (such as resale price maintenance, restrictions on online sales, and dual pricing) recently, and published a paper (“Vertical Restraint in the Internet Economy”) setting out its preliminary views on those issues in October (2013).