Germany's anti-cartel office drops Amazon inquiry

Third-party sellers in the country no longer have to agree to "price parity" clause.

Germany's antitrust regulation authority announced earlier this week that it is dropping an inquiry into Amazon's pricing tactics, after the retailer abandoned a contentious pricing policy.

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In the inquiry, the Bundeskartellamt — Germany's anti-cartel office — asserted that Amazon may have been unfairly limiting competition by forbidding its third-party vendors from selling their products for lower prices on other outlets, including their own websites, than on Amazon.

"Amazon is the largest online retailer and directly competes with sellers on its Marketplace platform," Andreas Mundt, the anti-cartel office's president, said.

"Price specifications for one's own competitors can never be justified, not even with the undisputed advantages of an online marketplace."

Amazon's 'price parity' clause, which merchants in many countries must agree to when they sign up to sell their products, was intended to "ensure that customers do not find a better price on any other platform", according to a statement from Amazon.

In other countries, such as the US, if Amazon's sellers are found to have not complied with the clause, they must refund the price difference to affected customers.

In August, after pressure from authorities in the UK and Germany, Amazon dropped the price parity cause for sellers within the EU, but according to Mundt, this wasn't quite enough.

"As there was a risk that Amazon might return to its previous business practices and the contractual conditions had only been changed for some of the sellers, the Bundeskartellamt had objected to the measures," Mundt said, and that "it was also not certain that the sellers were aware that the price parity clauses had been cancelled".

And in an interview last month with Süddeutsche Zeitung, Mundt told the newspaper that Amazon's price parity policy update may not have been implemented consistently. It "still applies to those who are called Amazon platinum dealers, the dealers who sell the largest volumes on Amazon", Mundt said.

The inquiry was dropped after the Bundeskartellamt confirmed with sellers that the policy had indeed been changed.

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