In May of this year, the EU's Competition Commissioner, Margarethe Vestager, announced that there would be a major competition inquiry into the e-commerce sector in Europe.  That announcement prefaced a very significant information gathering exercise and sure enough, over this last week, the latest round of questionnaires have been sent to suppliers of branded goods across a range of sectors and product types.

The purpose of the inquiry is to help the Commission to understand and tackle barriers to cross-border e-commerce.  Currently, only 15% of consumers purchase online from a seller based in another EU Member State and the Commission considers that to be a problem.  The inquiry will be relevant to every business that sells or facilitates the sale of goods or services online in the EU.

The new questionnaires focus on how suppliers of branded goods design and operate their routes to market in the EU, including choosing whether to operate exclusive or selective distribution, agency or franchise.  The Commission is also particularly interested in how suppliers deal (or do not deal) with online marketplaces.

As with previous investigations (e.g. into the pharmaceutical sector), the Commission is asking suppliers to provide copies of their reseller agreements.

Once the Commission has gathered the data that it wants, there will be a processing and review stage, and then further competition infringement investigations where there is evidence that the EU's competition rules may have been infringed.

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.