On 14 September 2021 the Dutch competition authorities (ACM) imposed a fine of almost 40 million euros on Samsung Electronics Benelux B.V. (Samsung). In the opinion of the ACM, Samsung exerted undue influence on the online sales prices of televisions of seven retailers from January 2013 to December 2018.
It follows from communications between Samsung employees and retailers that Samsung actively influenced retailers’ online sales prices during the infringement period and expected retailers to adhere to the prices communicated by Samsung. The retailers went along with this, but it was Samsung that played the central role in the coordination.
Samsung monitored the prices of retailers via price comparison websites and retailers’ web shops, among others. It collected this price data by means of so-called spider software and carefully analysed price movements of its own television models. If Samsung observed sales prices that were too different from the market price it wanted, Samsung contacted retailers and urged them to adjust their sales prices. Samsung employees discussed internally which retailers should be contacted. They did this via email or Whatsapp, among other methods. Samsung also let it be known that it had communicated the same price to competing retailers, often with the message that they would also increase their prices. Based on these communications, retailers could be confident that they would not price themselves out of the market if they used the prices set by Samsung.
Samsung knew that it could not force retailers to increase their prices. Staff therefore used the term ‘advice’ but this advice was in reality not individual and non-binding. Samsung’s conduct distorted competition at the retail level and led to higher prices for consumers.
This has set the tone for the ACM; it is clear that the ACM is now more actively targeting vertical forms of cooperation, which have so far remained relatively untouched in the Netherlands. Suppliers would do well to take a critical look at their relationship with their distributors, franchisees and dealers and assess whether they need to adjust their marketing & sales strategy accordingly.