John Lewis, Debenhams and House of Fraser have been accused of price fixing Britain’s most popular sports bras by the Office of Fair Trading following a year-long investigation.
The Shock Absorber bras, which can cost up to £40, were supplied by DB Apparel UK in nine separate agreements made with the department stores between 2008 and 2011 to set minimum prices, according to the OFT.
DB Apparel’s parent company, private equity group Sun European Partners, is already understood to be under investigation by the regulator for two of its other businesses, Dreams and SCS, over its sales tactics.
Ann Pope, senior director at the OFT, said: “We take allegations of price-fixing seriously. Resale price maintenance limits competition between retailers and can lead to consumers paying higher prices.”
The retailers could be fined up to 10 per cent of their worldwide turnover or a fine up to £378m for John Lewis, £222m for Debenhams and £110m for House of Fraser.
During the period covering the allegations, DB’s sports bras had 15 per cent of the market. It also sells the Wonderbra and Playtex brands across Europe. DB was bought by Sun in 2006 and was put up for sale last year, but failed to attract any interest.
All four businesses deny the allegations. John Lewis said: “We always strive to operate within the law and comply with regulations. We are fully co-operating with the OFT and will respond in due course.”
Debenhams said it “disputes these provisional findings of the OFT”. House of Fraser said: “We are confident we have been operating within all laws and regulations and are very supportive of any initiative that ensures pricing policies are fair for our customers.”
DB Apparel said: “We have been transparent with UK authorities since the beginning of this process and will continue to defend ourselves vigorously in this investigation.”