As the mobility aids sector knows only too well, the long arm of the law — in this instance the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) — is always ready to pounce.
Three years ago the industry was famously the subject of a major investigation into online pricing that led to the CMA ruling that two suppliers and a number of their UK retailers had infringed competition law regarding the sale of mobility scooters.
At the time, the CMA made it clear that the internet is a vitally important tool for consumers who wish to compare prices and secure value for money, particularly in the mobility scooters sector where consumers may have difficulty in visiting a number of stores and prices can vary dramatically.
A previous study into mobility aids that the CMA carried out revealed that mobility scooters in general can vary in price by over £1,000 for the identical product and, in some instances, there were even prices differences of £3,000.
By now, mobility companies will be well aware of the need to tread carefully when it comes to online pricing, but if there was any doubt then the CMA’s recent decision to publish an ‘open letter’ to retailers and suppliers about resale price maintenance (RPM) serves as a timely reminder of the consequences of failing to comply with competition law.
The CMA referenced a string of recent cases in its correspondence although the publication of the letter — which was aimed at suppliers and retailers of all products, not just mobility equipment — appears to have been prompted by a £2.7m fine handed down to a supplier of domestic light fittings for illegally imposing a minimum price on online sellers.
With the digital economy booming and more businesses operating online, the eyes of the competition authority are firmly fixed on every sector. As the mobility market has already learnt, the CMA’s sole intention is to ensure that consumers’ ability to compare prices and get a fair deal is not restricted.
And, regardless of the inter-trade politics that exist around online versus physical stores, that can only happen when retailers are free to set their own prices.