Dutch regulator fines Samsung €39 mil. for pumping TV prices

AMSTERDAM - Electronics and tech group Samsung was fined over 39 million euros by the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM). According to the regulator, the South Korean company was guilty of influencing the prices that stores charged for Samsung televisions between 2013 and 2018, causing customers to pay more. Samsung systematically scoured the online offers of its TVs and put online stores under pressure to raise prices, which is not allowed according to the ACM.

During its investigation, the ACM came across unauthorized practices by Samsung at seven retailers who offered the brand's televisions in their webshop. If the selling prices were lower than Samsung wanted, the company sent the sellers messages that the price had to go up. Employees presented this as advice, but according to the market authority, it was not at all non-committal messages. In addition, Samsung also intervened when retailers complained about competitors selling the brand's TVs for less. The ACM deduced from WhatsApp and email traffic that Samsung subsequently addressed those retailers about prices that were too low.

Retailers must be allowed to set their own prices, the ACM emphasized, but that was clearly not the case here. "Samsung's behavior distorted competition at the retail level and led to higher prices for consumers," said CEO Martijn Snoep. The company informed retailers back and forth so that they knew they could raise the price for Samsung TVs without pricing themselves out of the market. By counteracting too rapid price drops for flat screens, Samsung protected its own margins and those of retailers.

Samsung said in a written response that it is disappointed with the decision of the ACM and announced legal steps to challenge the fine. The company believes that its Benelux subsidiary complied with all competition rules. A spokesperson declined to comment further on the matter.

The ACM discovered the prohibited commercial practices through complaints from shopkeepers. The regulator decided not to fine the shopkeepers who participated in influencing prices. As a "spider in the web", Samsung strongly steered the coordination of sales prices, a spokesperson explained. "But it does show that retailers have to be careful, that they can also say no to something." The ACM has no indications that Samsung is still making price agreements. 

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