Following the presentation of the 750,000 signature petition to the EU Parliament MEPs took the opportunity to comment. Mary Honeyball MEP talked about price fixing and more importantly about creating equal access to goods and services across Europe and changing outdated competition laws, enabling online retailers to sell all goods “no matter whether they originate from Asda, Apple or Armani”.
At times the restrictions imposed on sellers appear bizaare. Andreas Müller sells consumer electronics in Germany and whilst one LCD TV manufacturer is happy for their product to be sold on eBay at a fixed price, Andreas is not allowed to sell them using an eBay auction format.
John Pemberton a UK clothes seller had stock of brand new ties but when he listed them on eBay he received a solicitors letter demanding they be removed, and the distributor was fined £20,000 by the manufacturer for allowing the product onto the open market.
Another UK fashion retailer, Tayyab Akhlaq, said his customers shop online because “They want more choice at lower prices. It is wrong for brand owners to resort to unfair tactics to stop retailers like me offering consumers a better deal on their products. The law should be changed to stop them. I want to see the European Commission take the side of consumers.”
Roger Helmer MEP was frankly astonished that brands could restrict free trade and determine where and at what price goods can be sold at, these type of restraints were outlawed years ago so to find that they are so widespread was a shock.
It’s not all about price though, Anthony Pechou a French seller of wrist watches explained “Online business is very important to me because it enables me to access a far greater number of consumers than I’m able to do with my bricks and mortar shop in Chamany. It allows me to sell more products at more competitive prices”. He told MEPs that without the online component of his business it simply wouldn’t be viable to keep his retail shop open due to the seasonal tourist nature of his business.
Many high street retailers are already using a combination of online and offline retail to offer consumers a choice – PC World were one of the first to offer an order online, pick up in store service. Selling online is starting to support the retail buying experience and that’s only likely to grow in the future.
The ability for a business to offer the a choice of buying experiences and a range of price options to a consumer isn’t something that should be limited by brand owners. It’s something that business owners should be able to decide based on the buying option their customers choose to use.