On 24 March 2010, the French Competition Authority (the "Authority") launched a market test following commitments proposed by HighCo, Sogec and Perifem. HighCo and Sogec are companies offering services linked to online discount coupons ("e-coupons") that consumers can use in distributors' retail stores. They also deal with the only two clearing centres in charge of reimbursement of e-coupons in France. Perifem is an association embodying French distributors.
Unlike paper coupons, e-coupons were not 'safeguarded' and distributors therefore requested, through Perifem, a guarantee that they would be reimbursed for e-coupons. A working group composed of Perifem, HighCo and Sogec then created a standard for safeguarding e-coupons, also known as the "Webcoupon".
However, the Authority pointed out that there were several competition issues relating to the Webcoupon scheme:
- Industrial advertisers, which promote e-coupons for their own products, were not allowed to be part of the working group;
- HighCo and Sogec were putting pressure on distributors to make them use Webcoupon by threatening not to reimburse them if they did not;
- Webcoupon could not be used by HighCo's and Sogec's competitors;
- Alternative standard offers were restrained and not promoted by Perifem; and
- HighCo and Sogec unreasonably favoured distributors using Webcoupon.
The Authority underlined that creating a standard that is not available to competitors restricts competition. Moreover, the Authority noticed that a difference in treatment between (i) Webcoupons and (ii) e-coupons that do not comply with this standard is an abuse of a dominant position.
As part of their commitments, HighCo and Sogec propose to publish the specifications for safeguarding e-coupons, to treat all coupons equally (e-coupons and paper coupons), to allow the development of new alternative standards and permit Perifem to participate in the creation and evolution of these new standards.
Any party interested in making a comment on these commitments can present its observations to the Authority before 26 April 2010.
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