AIM welcomes the EC’s willingness to consider policy changes to reflect the new omni-channel market reality: online players no longer need the protection over the brick-and-mortar channel that the EC granted when it revised the VBER/VGL package in 2010. Brand owners should be free to set different prices and to offer hybrid retailers discounts or compensations to reward and support their in-store efforts, which would be much more effective than trying to work out a “fixed fee” or setting a minimum in-store turnover target for brick-and-mortar stores.
“As brick-and-mortar stores need support to acclimatise to rapidly evolving markets, a more flexible approach is essential, and we endorse Executive Vice-President Vestager’s intention to pursue this objective”, remarked Michelle Gibbons, Director General of AIM, the European Brands Association. “We must take a consumer-centric approach, as consumers now expect a seamless shopping experience throughout their journey, whether offline, online or both. Brand owners have invested heavily in recent years to build this omni-channel experience for consumers who have become increasingly connected, mobile and interested in engaging with brands at any time and from anywhere.”
The EC should block-exempt dual pricing for both online and offline sales and the VGL should clarify that a supplier and its retailers are free to exchange information about the sales channel through which they sell the supplier’s products since such activity is not indicative of any attempt to limit or restrict passive sales by the retailer. Suppliers need this information to adjust their strategy to consumer demand and the ever-evolving retail environment, and to remunerate appropriately the efforts made by hybrid retailers, either online and/or offline. The VBER/VGL framework should explicitly allow a brand owner to collect this data and to reward a retailer for sharing such data, including in situations of dual distribution.