Bundeskartellamt raises objections against ASICS’s restrictions of online sale

By Gabriele Accardo

On 24 April 2014 the Bundeskartellamt issued a press release stating that, based on preliminary investigation, it has found that ASICS Deutscheland’s selective distribution system restricts competition among its dealers in breach of competition rules.

In particular, the objections raised against ASICS are that ASICS prohibits its dealers without exception from using online marketplaces such as eBay or Amazon, as well as price comparison engines. Also, distributors are equally prevented from using ASICS’s brand names on the websites of third parties, such as price comparison engines, and may not even guide customers to the online shop of an authorised ASICS dealer. Such hard core restrictions appear to constitute a de facto ban on Internet distribution, according to the Bundeskartellamt.

ASICS’s network of authorised dealers is differentiated into over 20 categories of dealers, some of which are allocated a different product range. In turn, dealers are bound by this categorisation even for cross-deliveries to other authorised ASICS dealers. Moreover, many of the authorised dealers can only sell a limited product range to final customers.

Andreas Mundt, President of the Bundeskartellamt, stated that “…manufacturers can select their dealers according to certain criteria and can set quality requirements. However …ASICS’ distribution system in its current form primarily serves to control price competition in both online and offline sales.”Mundt further noted that ASICS is not only restricting competition among its dealers, but also restricting competition in the running shoes market in general because of its strong position in that market, and other major running shoes manufacturers are also restricting online business in a similar fashion.

While the Bundeskartellamt is also investigating sports goods manufacturer Adidas, it appears that many brand manufacturers are in the process of modifying their selective distribution systems to adapt them to online distribution.

Interestingly, although companies are conducting to self-assessments of their distribution practices, Bundeskartellamt officials are making themselves available for discussions with any manufacturers who may have specific questions on how to design their selective distribution systems in line with competition law or to examine any proposals in this respect.

ASICS will have until 10 June 2014 to reply to the objections raised by the authority.