On 22 August 2014, the German competition authority, Bundeskartellamt (BKA), fined a mattress manufacturer €8.2 million for imposing resale price maintenance (RPM) on retailers selling its products. The case, which initiated from third-party complaints, is a classic example of “what not to do” in a company’s relationship with its independent distributors and would serve as an excellent example in an internal compliance programme.
According to the BKA, the manufacturer in question (Recticel) had engaged in various illegal activities designed to ensure that retailers would not offer certain strategic “Schlaraffia” products below the resale price set by Recticel. In particular, RPM was enforced in talks about compliance with the minimum sales prices, or in correspondence reminding the retailers of or requesting compliance with the minimum sales prices. Further, whenever a retailer failed to observe the price maintenance and other retailers complained about this, “renewed discussion” was held with the retailer to induce it to raise the price, which in most cases resulted in an agreement on the resale prices.
This applied to offline and online sales, but additional measures were taken concerning the latter. Recticel offered selected online dealers the opportunity to advertise themselves as "authorised Schlaraffia online dealers" using Recticel's logo and data, provided they offered prices which were not lower than the set minimum sales prices for the strategic product lines. Infringements of this condition were redressed by, for example, barring the dealer from Google-Adwords or from Ebay under Ebay's brand protection programme (for the unauthorised usage of manufacturers' data). Some retailers also were threatened with delays in supply or legal steps if they did not adjust the price of their offers to the minimum sales prices set by Recticel.