E-commerceAntitrust sector inquiry of European Commission finds geo-blocking is widespread

Today, the European Commission published initial findings of its e-commerce sector inquiry, which indicate that geo-blocking (i.e. regionally unavailable internet content) is widespread within the European Union preventing consumers from purchasing consumer goods and accessing digital content online. As part of the Commission’s Digital Single Market Strategy, this ongoing inquiry was launched in May 2015 and aimed to gather information for a better understanding of European online commerce markets. So far, details from 1,400 retailers and digital content providers from the 28 EU Member States yield the following insights:

  • Geo-blocking mainly takes the form of refusals to deliver to another European country, but also to accept foreign payment methods and, to a lesser extent, re-routing and website access blocks.
  • 38% of the responding online retailers selling consumer goods (clothes, shoes, sports articles, consumer electronics) and 68% of digital content providers replied that they geo-blocked consumers located in other EU Member States.
  • 12% of retailers reported on contractual restrictions to sell cross-border and 59% of content providers indicated that they were contractually required by suppliers to geo-block. However, the majority of such geo-blocking results from unilateral business decisions.
  • Significant differences regarding the prevalence of geo-blocking for digital content exist between different EU Member States and digital content categories.

Margrethe Vestager, EU-Commissioner for competition policy, commented on the findings as follows: "The information gathered as part of our e-commerce sector inquiry confirms the indications that made us launch the inquiry: Not only does geo-blocking frequently prevent European consumers from buying goods and digital content online from another EU country, but some of that geo-blocking is the result of restrictions in agreements between suppliers and distributors. Where a non-dominant company decides unilaterally not to sell abroad, that is not an issue for competition law. But where geo-blocking occurs due to agreements, we need to take a close look whether there is anti-competitive behavior, which can be addressed by EU competition tools."

Source: European Commission

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