Following a preliminary announcement in March, on 6 May 2015, the European Commission (EC) launched an antitrust inquiry into the e-commerce sector in the EU. The inquiry will focus on potential barriers erected by companies to cross-border online trade in goods and services where e-commerce is most widespread. This will cover sectors such as electronics, clothing and shoes, as well as digital content.

Knowledge gained through the sector inquiry will be used to enforce antitrust law in the e-commerce sector and also, the EC indicates, to facilitate consideration of various legislative initiatives which it plans to launch to boost the EU’s Digital Single Market.

This latter point is particularly important; the inquiry will impact future legislation. All companies involved in this area should therefore follow and consider participating in the inquiry. Indeed, they may have to. The EC will now send requests for information to a range of stakeholders throughout the EU. Under EU antitrust rules, the EC can require companies and trade associations to supply information, documents or statements as part of a sector inquiry.

The inquiry will not be quick, however. The EC expects to publish a preliminary report for consultation in mid-2016. The final report is expected in the first quarter of 2017.