UK: The Bikeurope Case: Final Sprint On Online Sales Restrictions?

Last Updated: 26 July 2019
Article by Yves Botteman and Camille Keres

On July 1st, 2019, the French Competition Authority (FCA) imposed a €250,000 fine on Bikeurope B.V. (hereafter, Bikeurope) and its parent company Trek Bicycle Corporation for implementing a de facto ban on online sales to its distributors in France.

This decision, which is the last episode to date in the online restrictions saga, paints a particularly contrasted picture concerning online sales restrictions. While the FCA showed no mercy against certain forms of online restrictions, others apparently got a free pass – at least for now. As such, the Bikeurope case is an important, although perhaps incomplete, roadmap for brand owners willing to impose online restraints on their distributors in France and, more broadly, across the European Union.


Bikeurope assembles, distributes and sells high-end bicycles via a selective distribution network. It operates in France through it French establishment, Trek France. With regard to online sales, Bikeurope imposed a series of restrictions from 2008 to 2014. These restrictions evolved over time but essentially included (1) a requirement to resell (or deliver, depending on the years) the products only from an authorized physical place of sale. Other restrictions included (2) a ban on sales on auction websites and (3) restrictions concerning online advertising, which was notably subject to Bikeurope pre-approval between 2008 and 2014.

The FCA's tough stance on Bikeurope's de facto online sales ban

The FCA focused its analysis on the provisions under (1) and found that they amounted to a ban on online sales. In this regard, the FCA noted that the requirement to resell from an authorized place of sale necessarily implied a ban on online sales. The same applied to the requirement to deliver from an authorized place of sale, as this would force customers to pick up the products bought online in the physical store of the distributor. Furthermore, the existence of a ban on online sales was confirmed by emails sent by Bikeurope to its distributors and by the fact that, as of April 2014, no Bikeurope distributor sold their products online.

In its defence, Bikeurope put forward two key arguments:

  • The need to ensure the safety and technicity of the Bikeurope products. Bikeurope relied on a French decree of 1995, which was applicable during the infringement period and which set out an obligation to only deliver fully set up bicycles to consumers. The goal of this regulatory obligation was to ensure consumer safety and to indirectly preserve the technicity of the products. On that basis, Bikeurope argued that its in-store delivery requirement was purported to ensure compliance with the 1995 decree. The FCA rejected the argument, noting in particular that the in-store delivery requirement went beyond the provisions of the decree, which did not prohibit online sales. The FCA also noted that online sales developed for bicycles developed during the infringement period, going from 4,5% in 2012 to 7,5% in 2015.
  • The need to preserve "a strong added value business model". Bikeurope also argued that the requirement for in-store delivery aimed at preserving the added-value of the business model, e.g. via an in-person service at the store. In line with a consistent line of recent case law in Europe, the FCA rejected the argument, noting that Bikeurope could have achieved this objective through less onerous means, for instance by imposing an obligation on online distributors to provide advice via a hotline or a live chat.

Finally, the FCA found that Bikeurope's de facto ban on online sales had an anticompetitive object. In this regard, the FCA highlighted that the in-store delivery requirement amounted to re-establishing catchment areas: even though customers would be able to compare prices when making an online purchase, they would ultimately be constrained to buy products sold by nearby outlets. The FCA therefore imposed a €250,000 fine – a relatively small amount, due to the fact that the law on online sales ban was unclear until 2011 (when the Pierre Fabre judgment confirmed that online sales bans are anticompetitive).

Radio silence on platform bans and online advertising restrictions – No news, good news?

As noted above, Bikeurope imposed other online restrictions to its distributors, namely, a ban on sales on auction websites and restrictions concerning online advertising, which were notably subject to Bikeurope's pre-approval between 2008 and 2014. The FCA's decision largely ignores these two restrictions.

As for the ban on sales on auction websites, this – admittedly tacit – validation of the mechanism is consistent with the prior decisional practice of the FCA and with the case law of a number of European national courts, including the Caudalie judgment of the Court of Appeal of Paris (adopted on July 13, 2018).

The situation is less clear concerning the restriction on online advertising that Bikeurope imposed on its distributors, in particular insofar as it limited online advertisement to the distributor's own website or to websites approved in advance by Bikeurope. One the one hand, such restraint may well be seen as participating in the overall intent of Bikeurope to prohibit online sales. On the other hand, the FCA did not treat this restraint as part of its objections and did not carry out an analysis on its possible anticompetitive effect. Further, with a view to protecting their brand image, suppliers should be able to exercise some control over how distributors and retailers advertise their products on third party websites.

One may nevertheless wonder whether this assessment may vary depending on the extent to which the advertising restrictions significantly impair the online visibility of the distributors. While the FCA does not shed light on this point, the German competition authority and the German courts touched upon it in the Asics case in Germany, which concerned comparable restrictions (prohibition to use price comparison engines and to use the Asics trademark for advertising purposes). In Asics, the restrictions were deemed anticompetitive precisely because they limited the searchability of the distributors on the Internet – an issue possibly worth considering when assessing restrictions to online advertising.

Where does it leave us?

The Bikeurope decision comes less than a year after the Stihl decision, where the FCA imposed a €7 million fine on a chainsaw manufacturer for imposing an obligation to its distributors to hand-deliver the products to their customers. The FCA also imposed several injunctions on Stihl to change its behaviour. In this case and similar to Bikeurope, Stihl argued that this restriction was necessary to ensure the safe use of its products, by allowing the distributor to demonstrate, in person, how to safely use the chainsaw. The FCA found that such a restriction was disproportionate relative to its objective of ensuring the safety of its products. Other similarity with Bikeurope: Stihl had also imposed a platform ban, which the FCA cleared (this time, explicitly).

Following these two cases, two clear take-away emerge:

  • The FCA will not tolerate any kind of de facto ban on online sales – however serious or legitimate the justifications for these bans may be. One may argue that the FCA is being too rigid, if not dogmatic, on this issue: both Bikeurope and Stihl put forward arguably convincing stories to justify their practices, based on credible safety concerns. In this regard, we note with interest that the Paris Court of Appeal has already ordered the suspension of the injunctions imposed by the FCA against Stihl. In doing so, the Court of Appeal flagged, inter alia, "the legal risk resulting from Stihl's civil liability as well as the reputational risk induced by the lower quality of the service", which suggests that the Stihl's safety concerns might well prevail when the Court of Appeal rules on the merits of the case in the coming months.
  • The FCA is clearly validating online platform bans. In this regard, the fact that the FCA did not even examine the ban that Bikeurope imposed on auction websites is particularly telling.

But this may not be the end of the road yet. Adding to the upcoming judgment of the Court of Appeal in the Stihl case, one may wonder what the status of restrictions to online advertising is after the Bikeurope case. The silence of the FCA on this issue might be indicative that at least some degree of restrictions to online advertising, aimed at protecting the brand image, would be admissible. This would be even more so where the supplier can show that such limits do not materially impede the visibility and searcheability of the retailer in the online space, i.e. consumers can easily find the website of the retailer through a few clicks. This being said, the topic has proven to be sensitive in other jurisdictions and further guidance on this topic would be welcome.

Dentons is the world's first polycentric global law firm. A top 20 firm on the Acritas 2015 Global Elite Brand Index, the Firm is committed to challenging the status quo in delivering consistent and uncompromising quality and value in new and inventive ways. Driven to provide clients a competitive edge, and connected to the communities where its clients want to do business, Dentons knows that understanding local cultures is crucial to successfully completing a deal, resolving a dispute or solving a business challenge. Now the world's largest law firm, Dentons' global team builds agile, tailored solutions to meet the local, national and global needs of private and public clients of any size in more than 125 locations serving 50-plus countries.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions