ComCom warns Panasonic NZ over alleged retail price setting

ComCom warns Panasonic NZ over alleged retail price setting

The competition watchdog also issued a reminder to the broader consumer electronics sector of their responsibilities.

Credit: Bin Im Garten

The Commerce Commission has fired a warning shot at Panasonic NZ over potential anti-competitive conduct.

The commission considered Panasonic was likely to have breached the resale price maintenance (RPM) provisions in section 37 of the Commerce Act after an investigation into allegations of anti-competitive conduct in consumer electronic and computer product markets.

However, the alleged breaches appear to relate to the supply of TVs only.

The commission also issued a broader letter to the consumer electronics sector, suggesting it may have concerns the alleged issues were more widespread. 

"After weighing up the factors set out in our enforcement response guidelines, we have decided to exercise our enforcement discretion by issuing this warning to Panasonic," the letter addressed to Stewart Fowler, managing director of Panasonic New Zealand, said.

A warning is not a finding of non-compliance, however. A court has to decide whether a breach of the law had occurred and the commission decided against legal action.

The commission said it was of the view that Panasonic engaged in RPM towards several retailers in breach of section 37 of the Act relating to withholding supply of consumer TVs to two retailers during 2017 and 2019 and relating to supplying consumer TVs to a retailer on less favourable terms than other retailers.

The conduct involved independent or smaller retailers at times offering Panasonic TVs at a price less than the price specified by Panasonic.

RPM is illegal because it prevents retailers from setting their prices independently, in order to attract more customers and sell more products. 

"We consider this behaviour can be harmful to competition, and to consumers, because it interferes with the competitive determination of price and may result in consumers paying higher prices for goods than they would without the conduct," said the letter, signed by commission cartels manager Grant Chamberlain.

Panasonic was told it should be aware the decision to issue a warning letter did not prevent any other person or entity from taking private action through the courts.

"To avoid breaching the Act in the future, we recommend that Panasonic is mindful of the Act when interacting with retailers, particularly in circumstances where the conduct may interfere with any retailer's independent decision relating to their retail prices," the letter advised.

"To avoid the risk of breaching section 37 of the Act, Panasonic should take care to ensure it does not seek to stipulate or control the prices set by retailers for Panasonic products."

Retailers should be free to independently decide their own retail pricing, the commission said.

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Tags retailregulationNew Zealandconsumer electronicsPanasoniccomputersCommerce Commission



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