Bundeskartellamt takes a critical view of restriction of online distribution by ASICS
After a preliminary examination the Bundeskartellamt has found that the selective distribution system of ASICS Deutschland, which allows for the sale of running shoes to final customers only via authorised dealers, poses a number of serious restraints to competition. These concerns apply above all to the extensive hindrance of online distribution. Today ASICS Deutschland was informed in writing about the authority's concerns. The company has been given a deadline until 10 June 2014 to comment on the matter.
Andreas Mundt, President of the Bundeskartellamt:
"It is generally acknowledged that manufacturers can select their dealers according to certain criteria and can set quality requirements. However, ASICS prohibits its dealers from selling on online market places and supporting price comparison engines. This is overshooting the mark. According to our preliminary assessment, ASICS' distribution system in its current form primarily serves to control price competition in both online and offline sales. With its extensive requirements the manufacturer is restricting competition among its dealers in the sale of ASICS running shoes. ASICS is also restricting competition in the running shoes market in general because of its strong position in this market and other major running shoes manufacturers are also restricting online business in a similar fashion."
The Bundeskartellamt criticizes in particular that the dealers are prohibited without exception from using online marketplaces such as eBay or Amazon. The authority also objects to ASICS prohibiting its dealers from supporting price comparison engines. ASICS does not allow its distributors to use its brand names on the websites of third parties, not even to guide customers to the online shop of an authorised ASICS dealer. The Bundeskartellamt views each of these three prohibitions as an inadmissible hardcore restriction. Taken together they constitute a de facto ban on internet distribution.
In addition to the restriction of online distribution, the Bundeskartellamt also takes a critical view of the very detailed differentiation of the distribution system into over 20 categories of dealers, some of which are allocated a different product range. The dealers are bound to 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.
Many brand manufacturers are in the process of modifying their selective distribution systems to adjust them to conditions in online distribution. The Bundeskartellamt is also conducting proceedings in this connection against the sports goods manufacturer Adidas.
The authority is generally 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.