Hellenic Competition Commission

Sector inquiry into e-commerce

Sector inquiry by the Hellenic Competition Commission into e-commerce

The Hellenic Competition Commission (“HCC”), taking into account the increasing important role of e-commerce in Greek consumers’ habits, as a reliable channel for the distribution of goods and services, as well as the ability of modern technology tools to facilitate restrictions of competition in the digital environment, has initiated by decision of 11.03.2020 a sector inquiry into e-commerce, exercising the respective powers conferred on it pursuant to Article 40 of Law 3959/2011.

In modern times, both consumers and businesses benefit from the many and important advantages of online stores and platforms over traditional, natural distribution channels. E-commerce is undoubtedly, after all, the key driver for promoting pricing competition due to certain parameters, such as, for example, the lower operating costs of online retailers and the ease of product search and price comparison. However, artificial intelligence, the use of algorithms and the ability to use big data can, in some cases, facilitate the adoption of practices that are able to harm consumers.

In this context, the HCC is taking the initiative to investigate in depth the competitive conditions prevailing in the digital environment, in order to enhance consumer welfare, but also to actively contribute to the country’s digital transformation and the promotion of innovation.

The launch of this sector inquiry takes place at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has significantly increased the reliance of Greek consumers on online retailers’ commercial activities. In that regard, it is part of the wider set of actions undertaken by the HCC to protect consumers at this difficult situation.

The leadership and staff of the HCC, being fully aware of the adverse and unforeseen circumstances,we are experiencing as a country, remain committed to the Authority's mission to identify and fight any practices that harm consumers, especially at the current situation. To that effect, as part of the above sector inquiry, we are organizing an e-commerce conferencein May, which will take place in the form of a teleconference, hoping that it will be a first step aiming at hearing the views of any interested party on the currently prevailing competitive conditions in the digital environment.

In the broader context of this inquiry, especially in terms of the competitiveness of the digital economy and because connectivity is a key factor of it, the Hellenic Competition Commission has approached Rewheel - an independent Finnish research and consulting firm specializing in international communications, competitiveness and economic analysis of the mobile network - with a request for an independent study on the competitiveness of the Greek mobile data market, that you can read here.

For a more detailed overview of the feasibility and objective of this sector inquiry, click here.

 

Sector Inquiry into e-commerce

 

 

 

Latest Updates

  • 16 April 2020 - Announcement of modification of Phase A’ Sector Inquiry timeframe.  Read more here.
  • 13 April 2020 - Deadline for expression of interest for participation in the teleconference on e-commerce extended to 17.04.2020.
  • 31 March 2020 - Announcement of the launch of a public consultation: publication of an invitation to any interested party to submit written observations and comments, as well as to express interest in participating in a teleconference with officials of the Hellenic Competition Commission, read more here “Launch of public consultation of sector inquiry into e-commerce”
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Questions & Answers

- General Questions:  Scope and Aims of the Sector Inquiry

E-commerce is now an integral part of our daily lives, being in the consciousness of the average Greek consumer a reliable alternative to traditional, natural distribution channels. According to studies, in 2019 it was estimated that about four million of our compatriots would buy products or services online (Athens University of Economics and Business - Electronic Commerce Laboratory, 2019), with the total value of online markets amounting to € 10.2 billion in the same year (Stochasis, December 2019).

Coincidentally, the operation of online stores has become particularly important in recent times, with the rise of the coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19).

The introduction of online shopping into our consumer habits is not surprising given the diverse benefits of digital stores: convenience, direct access, lower prices - and all this, within a few "clicks" between them. At the same time, online platforms act as intermediaries between retailers and consumers, allowing the latter to search for products and compare prices, eliminating the relative cost of research and promoting pricing competition. In fact, in the era of the 4th Industrial Revolution, artificial intelligence, the use of algorithms and the ability to use big data enhance the already dynamic nature of e-commerce, with significant benefits for consumers.

Ε-commerce also allows the productive part of the market to acquire access to an unlimited distribution channel and to ensure access to countless markets, both in Greece and abroad, contributing in the transformation of both the Greek economy and the strengthening of its extroversion. As the possibilities provided by the internet and e-commerce come to ensure the much needed access to consumers, overcoming geographical and other technical constraints, they also create the possibility for all producers – without exception – to develop and expand their activities, to invest in research and innovation, to design and create products and services that will be competitive and accessible worldwide, to promote Greek brands and, in general, to contribute to systematic productive restructuring and development of all sectors of the Greek economy.

At the same time, the development of internet technology is coming to overturn, disrupt and provoke established conditions and structures in every market, offering a unique opportunity to spread new ideas and implement initiatives by start-ups in creating collaborative innovation formations (clusters) and ultimately to attract scientific and other personnel, recovering the relative brain drain that Greek society has suffered in recent years.

Despite the significant benefits of e-commerce, businesses often resort to adopting practices that may limit consumers' ability to benefit as much as possible from the competitive advantages of the digital environment.

First, the application of certain forms of vertical restrictions - such as setting minimum resale prices, MFN clauses, general ban on online sales or ban on selling price comparison websites - is able to prevent entry into the market or development of innovative retailers, resulting in increased price levels to the detriment of consumers.

In addition, in the era of the 4th Industrial Revolution, the use of common algorithms by competitors (or different algorithms that interact) can greatly facilitate the creation and implementation of cartels. When algorithms are used in such a way as to increase market transparency, cartels are strengthened, as it facilitates not only market surveillance to detect any discrepancies in agreed prices, but also the immediate response of partner companies in case of a deviation from the terms of the cartel.

Finally, the particular characteristics of e-commerce and the growing dependence of companies operating in the digital environment on the use of mass consumer data can favor the creation of strong platforms with a dominant position in the respective market or ecosystem. These platforms may in turn adopt practices to exclude their competitors or exploit consumers through the implementation of a policy of excessive pricing.

The launch of this sector inquiry takes place at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has brought significant changes in the Greek consumers’ habits, highlighting the importance of e-commerce, is part of the wider set of actions undertaken by the HCC to protect consumers at this difficult juncture.

In this context, the Hellenic Competition Commission is taking the initiative to launch a sector inquiry into e-commerce, using the relevant capacity provided by law, to determine whether and to what extent competition in the digital environment works effectively and to identify any practices that are able to harm consumer welfare.

 

The sector inquiry primarily focuses on the following markets:

  • clothing and footwear (with emphasis on the relevant sportswear and footwear market)
  • electronic and electric devices
  • books
  • mediation services to provide travel tickets
  • mediation services for the provision of tickets for events
  • mediation services to provide catering services
  • accommodation and rental – AIRBNB
  • e-pharmacies (with emphasis on dietary supplements and parapharmaceuticals)

without prejudice to the ability of the Hellenic Competition Commission to further specify and / or limit and / or expand the scope of the inquiry depending on its case-by-case findings, as it evolves.

As part of its sector inquiry into e-commerce, the Hellenic Competition Commission invites any interested party to contribute to its work with comments and observations on the conditions of competition in the digital environment. We will welcome with particular interest any documented information on issues such as:

  • mapping of the relevant online markets,
  • potential barriers to new players entering the market or to the expansion of existing market players,
  • the use of algorithms by digital retailers and platforms for advertising or pricing purposes, including the implementation of personalised pricing systems for which there will be special market research by the Hellenic Competition Commission,
  • the importance of consumers’ mass data (big data) for the operation of digital retailers and platforms, as well as the scope of their use in commercial practice,
  • restrictive practices (agreements/concerted practices) between competitors operating in online commerce, with particular emphasis on cases where these restrictive practicesare facilitated by a common counterparty (e.g. digital platform),
  • the application of vertical restrictions on online distribution systems (e.g. setting minimum resale prices and / or minimum advertised prices, MFN clauses, imposing geographical restrictions),
  • all kinds of restrictions on the distribution of products and services over the Internet, such as: the (direct or indirect) general ban on online sales, the exclusion of certain online stores from distribution systems, or the prohibition of sales through platforms or price comparison websites,
  • implementation of dual pricing policy by suppliers, depending on whether their products are distributed through a physical or online channel,
  • abusive practices of powerful platforms (e.g. competitors' exclusion practices, excessive pricing),
  • practices falling within the scope of Regulation (EU) 2019/1150, with an emphasis on the latter's relationship with competition law.

The sector inquiry into e-commerce aims to help the HCC get a comprehensive insight into the competitive conditions prevailing in the markets concerned, so that, subsequently, it can either intervene ex postor take initiatives to promote specific political competition or regulatory arrangements in the relevant sectors. In that way, the sector inquiry into e-commerce is the main focus of the HCC's overall initiative to take steps to achieve the following goals:

  • Restructuring of the Economy
  • Promotion of Innovation
  • Contribution to the country’s Digital Evolution

- PHASE A’: Public Consultation

You can assist the HCC’s work from the earliest stages of the sector inquiry into the e-commerce. We kindly invite you to contribute to the public consultation by participating in the relevant teleconference on the e-commerce that will be held by the HCC and/or by submitting your views and comments, in the form of written submissions.

  • Participation in the teleconference organised by the HCC

In  May 2020, the Competition Commission will organise a conference on e-commerce aimed to be the first forum with a view to hearing the positions of each stakeholder. Due to the unforeseen circumstances created by the pandemic of coronavirus (Covid-19), the relevant conference will be held online, in the form of a teleconference. Please express your interest in participating in the conference call by sending an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., by Friday, April 17, 2020. Please indicate in your message the name of the institution or company you are representing. The teleconference will take place between 2 and 3 June 2020An invitation with details for the exact date and time of the teleconference, as well as for the way of the communication, will be sent to the participants in due course.

  • Written Submissions

In addition to participation in the e-Commerce HCC’s teleconference, you are invited to submit your comments and observations in the form of written submissions by Monday, May 18, 2020. The HCC will process the collected submissions and will publish an anonymous summary table of issues raised through the above website, also giving you the opportunity to express your views at the specially designed conference or teleconference.

If you wish your submission or any part of it to be treated as confidential, please make a relevant statement when submitting it.

Participation in the consultation is open to anyone who can provide useful information and comments on part or all of the issues that are the subject of this sector inquiry. We will greatly appreciate the participation of (amongst others):

  • pure-play internet retailers
  • retailers active in both physical and digital commerce (click-and-mortar outlets)
  • companies active upstream the supply chain (producers, importers, wholesalers)
  • associations and unions
  • business consultants, law firms and companies, economists
  • academics and researchers
  • consumer associations and/or individual consumers

 

 

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Procedural matters

The HCC, with the aim of protecting the safety and health of workers and the collaborating citizens, as well as ensuring the smooth operation of the Services and ensuring the public purposes it performs and serves, with its decision to be published in Government Gazette, stipulates the following for the period from Tuesday, 20/03/2020 until Thursday, 30/04/2020:

HCC offices will be staffed with security personnel, while most of the staff will work remotely.

Submission of documents in person or by mail will no longer be possible. Citizens & Businesses are required to use only the following e-mail addresses:

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for submitting documents to the HCC,

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for submitting notices of concentrations,

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for filing complaints,

or through the Hellenic Competition Commission's website form for submitting general questions or information requests.

Communication with the Directorate-General can be possible either by e-mail from the list of HCC staff, or by the following telephone numbers:

  • Protocol: +30 210 - 8809139 or +30 210-8809331
  • Directorate of Administrative & Financial Support: +30 210 - 8809209
  • A' Operational Directorate: +30 210 - 8809236
  • B' Operational Directorate: +30 210 - 8809217
  • Directorate of Legal Services: +30 210 - 8809248
  • Commission
  • Office of the President, Vice President and Rapporteurs: +30 210 - 8809202
  • HCC's Secretariat: +30 210 - 8809215 or +30 210-8809212 (for issues of organization of hearings and issues of the Plenary Session of the Commission)
The HCC Plenary Session will hold scheduled meetings and conferences via a teleconference platform after user authentication.
The legally binding deadlines still apply to the work of the HCC and HCC will continue to carry out its work, review its cases (including concentrations) and make decisions - through the immediate adjustment of its staff to teleworking. At the same time, it will continue to monitor the schedules, providing extentions where permitted. Any amendment shall be notified to the parties concerned and posted publicly on the HCC website.

The HCC will return with newer relevant announcements if required by the circumstances.

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Sector Inquiry’s Timeframe

  • 11.03.2020 - Formal launch of the sector inquiry into e-commerce
  • 31.03.2020 - Launch of public consultation: publication of an invitation to any interested party to submit written observations and comments, as well as to express interest in participating in the teleconference with officials of the HCC
  • 17.04.2020 - Last day of the deadline for expression of interest for participation in the teleconference
  • 18.05.2020 - Deadline for submission of written observations and comments
  • 2-3.06.2020 - Teleconference
  • 10.06.2020 - Sending questionnaires to sector representatives, based on the conclusions drawn from the teleconference and the submitted comments of the interested parties
  • 03.07.2020 - Deadline for submission of written replies to the questionnaires 
  • 30.10.2020 - Publication of the first draft Report on the sector inquiry
  • 01.11.2020 - Launch of a second public consultation and publication of an invitation to any interested party for the submission of written comments on the first draft Report
  • 30.04.2021 - Publication of Final Report
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Communication with the sector inquiry team

Communication with the sector inquiry team into e-commerce

For any question you want to ask about the sector inquiry and for more information, contact us by the following email address e-commercekladiki@epant.gr or directly with the inquiry team:

It is reminded that based on article 41 par. 2 of law 3959/2011, as in force, without prejudice to the provision of article 37 paragraph 2 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the employees HCC's Directorate-General for Competition are obliged to keep confidentiality regarding confidentially details of companies, business associations or other natural or legal persons, which they receive on the occasion of their service (such as sales, prices, suppliers, trade policies, etc.). Similar provisions are provided by Treatment of confidential information

AnyPersonal Data sent to HCC will be used exclusively for the promotion, support and implementation of the HCC's responsibilities. Each time HCC collects and uses Personal Data, it does so in the context of the implementation of the main public mission and its purposes, that is, to be able to answer your questions and communicate with you about anything else related to HCC's activities.
HCC will not disclose to any third party and will not use your Personal Data in cooperation with it, unless you have clear consent. Read more here.

 
 
 
 
 

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