Support studies for the evaluation of the VBER

With the imminent expiration of the Vertical Block Exemption Regulation (VBER) on 31 May 2022, the European Commission is currently evaluating the existing Regulation.

WIK-Consult's study ‘"Study on consumer purchasing behaviour in Europe’" is part of a large-scale qualitative and quantitative investigation conducted by a research consortium led by VVA to support the Directorate General for Competition (DG COMP) in the evaluation of the VBER and the Guidelines on Vertical Restraints by providing evidence on their relevance in light of changes in consumer purchasing behavior since the adoption of the current rules in 2010.

Manufacturers and retailers use a large number of different distribution and sales channels to promote their products. Despite the positive effects of this multi-channel approach for retailers and manufacturers as well as for consumers, discussions often focus on the facilitating effect of this multi-channel sales environment on the free-rider problem. Low-cost merchants that provide less product information and/or offer less customer service, might benefit from the fact that customers can rely on the offers of service-oriented (but more expensive) providers when making their purchase decision, but ultimately buy at the low-cost merchant. This free-rider problem is assumed to have a profound effect on the competition between brick-and-mortar merchants and e-commerce providers, since physical goods (e.g. clothing) can be tried out or compared in brick-and-mortar stores before the purchase is made online.

As the free-rider problem does not only result from the behavior and agreements of supply-side actors, but also from the behavior of consumers, it is necessary to understand consumer behavior and the potential interactions of consumers with (online and offline) retailers along the purchasing process in order to obtain a comprehensive picture of the current situation with the aim of evaluating the VBER and the relevant guidelines.

In order to investigate the current multi-channel purchasing behaviour of consumers, a large consumer survey was carried out in six EU Member States, namely France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Portugal and Sweden. The study shows which distribution channels consumers prefer at the individual stages - inspiration, information search and evaluation, purchase - of their "customer journey" when buying products from four selected product categories, which factors can determine purchasing behaviour and to what extent actions in the pre-purchase phase affect the purchasing phase.

The study also provides approximate values for the number of consumers/purchases that are relevant for free-riding behaviour among retailers, thus revealing the potential magnitude of the free-rider problem. The study also compares the results of the survey with results from other research and analyses external data sets to identify current long-term trends in consumer purchasing behaviour.

The complementary main study "Evaluation support study on the EU competition rules applicable to vertical agreements in the VBER and the Guidelines" provides additional insights into the relevance, effectiveness and efficiency of the existing Regulation and Guidelines and their possible revision. For that, the study employs a mix of different methodological tools like a comparative legal analysis, stakeholder in-depth interviews, econometric analysis, online survey and case studies. The study focuses on the analysis of existing agreements between supply-side actors, in particular with regard to selective distribution, exclusive distribution, resale price restrictions, most-favoured-nation clauses and cumulative effects.

The study is available for download.

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Alex Kalevi Dieke
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Serpil Taş
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Dr. Lukas Wiewiorra
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