OFT to quiz suppliers over claims of unfair online prices

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The Independent Online

The competition watchdog is investigating claims that Sony and other electronics manufacturers are charging online retailers more than their high street rivals for the same products.

The Office of Fair Trading confirmed yesterday it was "looking into" complaints from online retailers that they were being treated unfairly by major manufacturers, such as Sony.

The e-retailers' industry body, Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG), said electronics manufacturers were charging shopping websites between 10 and 15 per cent more than high street chains to buy goods wholesale. It is meeting two of the top four electronics groups, including Sony, this month, to outline its members' concerns.

Online retailers fear they will not be able to absorb the wholesale price increases without putting their prices up, making internet shopping less competitive before the all-important festive season. James Roper, of the IMRG, said: "Until now there has been one price manufacturers sold goods at regardless of where they were sold.... Now if you sell goods on the internet you have to pay manufacturers significantly more." He added: "Why it [Sony] wants to position itself as anti-consumer, anti-internet and anti-competitive just in time for Christmas seems a bit odd." He hopes the meeting will help both sides "thrash out a sensible plan going forward".

Internet traders met yesterday at the IMRG's offices but did not reveal which companies were the main culprits. Shopping websites are wary of going on the record about the problem because they are afraid of being blacklisted by electronics heavyweights. The Trading Standards Authority, European Commission and the Department of Trade and Industry have also been asked to look into the new "dual pricing" policy.

Internet spending is forecast to balloon this Christmas to about £5bn, or just shy of £1 in every £10 spent during the festive period. Analysts believe that part of the reason the high street is struggling is because more consumers are opting to shop online.

Sony said the wholesale price to e-retailers is more expensive than that charged to high street chains because of the discounts it gives traditional shops in return for them pushing its brand. It said incentives are in return for shops setting up dedicated Sony areas with specialised staff - services that online retailers are not able to offer.

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