From toothbrushes to coffee makers to computers: Europe fines Asus, Pioneer, Philips for rigging prices of kit

And Denon+Marantz, too

The European Commission has sent a slightly belated message to the consumer electronics industry that it frowns upon price fixing, this week fining four manufacturers a total of €111m (US$130m, £99m) for breaking European rules as long as seven years ago.

The companies on the business end of the regulators are Asus, Denon & Marantz, Pioneer, and Philips, with all four accused of pressuring online retailers from discounting their products between 2011 and 2015. In effect, they kept the prices of their gear artificially high on internet marketplaces, hitting punters in their wallets and purses.

Asus was dinged for the pricing of its computers and monitors between 2011 and 2014; Denon & Marantz for its hi-fi gear between 2011 and 2015; Philips wanted to set prices for all manner of gadgets between 2011 and 2013, including “kitchen appliances, coffee machines, vacuum cleaners, home cinema and home video systems, electric toothbrushes, hair driers and trimmers”; and Pioneer, for a variety of its audio-visual products between 2011 and 2013.

According to this statement from Euro Commissioner Margrethe Vestager on Tuesday, if the companies caught an online retailer discounting their products too much, they would order them to raise prices.

Non-compliance, Vestager said, would bring threats to cut off a retailer's product supply.

Gizmos and appliances

“As a result of the actions taken by the four companies, millions of European consumers faced higher prices for kitchen appliances, hair dryers, notebook computers, headphones and many other products they wanted to buy from online retailers”, Vestager said.

A price change as low as €1 could be enough to bring down a manufacturer's wrath, Vestager added.

Geographically, Pioneer was the most, ahem, vigilant of the four companies. The EC said the manufacturer squeezed e-shops in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the UK.

Asus only broke the rules in France and Germany; Denon & Marantz in Germany and the Netherlands; and Philips only intervened against cyber-bazaars in France.

All four giants received discounts on their fines for cooperating with the commission's investigators. Asus was hit hardest, being ordered to cough up €63m, Philips nearly €30m, Pioneer just over €10m, and Denon & Marantz €7.7m.

The equipment makers will hope that's the end of the matter, but the EC's media release notes that individuals and organizations can still take the manufacturers to court in member states, citing the price-fixing probe as “binding proof that the behaviour took place and was illegal.” ®

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