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Antitrust

Sector inquiry into e-commerce

In the context of its Digital Single Market strategy, on 6 May 2015 the Commission launched a sector inquiry into e-commerce in the EU, pursuant to Article 17 of Regulation 1/2003. The decision initiating the sector inquiry is available in three languages: en - fr - de

The aim of this sector inquiry is to allow the Commission to gather data on the functioning of e-commerce markets so as to identify possible restrictions or distortions of competition, in particular in relation to cross-border online trade.

As part of the sector inquiry, the Commission has requested information from a variety of actors in e-commerce markets throughout the EU both in relation to the online sales of consumer goods (such as electronics, clothing, shoes and sports equipment) as well as in relation to the online distribution of digital content. The inquiry is conducted in two phases. In the first phase, the retail level of the distribution chain was targeted and in phase two manufacturers/suppliers of consumer goods and right holders are questioned.

On 18 March 2016, the Commission has published initial findings of the sector inquiry in relation to geo-blocking. Geo-blocking refers to business practices whereby retailers and service providers prevent online shoppers from purchasing consumer goods or accessing digital content services because of the shopper's location or country of residence. See full report here.

The Commission's findings are based on the responses of more than 1400 companies active in the distribution of consumer goods and digital content and show that geo-blocking is widespread throughout the EU. As regards consumer goods, 38 % of respondents indicated that they use geo-blocking. While a majority of such geo-blocking results from unilateral business decisions of retailers, one out of ten retailers reported contractual restrictions to sell across borders.

As regards digital content, geo-blocking is applied by the majority of online digital content providers participating in the inquiry (68 %) and appears to be largely based on contractual restrictions with 59 % of respondents indicating that they are contractually required by right holders to geo-block. There appear to be large differences in both the extent to which geo-blocking of online digital content services takes place in different Member States, and the extent to which different types of operators implement geo-blocking in relation to different categories of digital content.

A more detailed analysis of all findings from the sector inquiry will be presented in a Preliminary Report which the Commission plans to publish for public consultation in mid-2016.

The Final Report is scheduled for the first quarter of 2017.

Businesses or associations that have not received a questionnaire but would like to make their views known are welcome to contact the Commission by e-mail at COMP-E-COMMERCE@ec.europa.eu.