French Competition Authority calls time on online sales restrictions of luxury goods

On 6 February 2024, the French Competition Authority (“FCA”) published its third vertical restraint decision in under two months. Altogether, the FCA has imposed almost €100m in fines across the three decisions, which concern different markets for luxury goods. Such infringements are more rarely targeted by competition authorities so this trend merits closer scrutiny. It remains to be seen whether the FCA will continue to focus on this type of case and whether it successfully encourages more impacted businesses to commence private actions.

The 3 decisions: Luxury teas, Rolex watches and chocolates

On 11 December 2023[1], luxury tea manufacturer Mariage Frères was fined 4 million euros for restricting its distributors’ commercial freedom by prohibiting them from selling its products online and from reselling those products to other distributors between 2008 and 2023. The FCA found that this restricted competition in a sector that was already concentrated and characterised by strong growth in online sales.

Just a week later, on 19 December 2023 [2], luxury watch manufacturer Rolex was fined no less than €91.6m for similarly prohibiting the online sale of Rolex watches by its distributors from 2011 to 2022. The decision follows complaints filed in January 2017 by trade association Union de la Bijouterie Horlogerie and distributor Pellegrin & Fils, and a dawn raid in January 2019. The FCA also ordered Rolex to send the summary of the decision to all its franchisees and to publish it on its website, in the national newspaper Le Figaro, as well as in a specialised industry publication.

On 6 February 2024 [3], chocolate manufacturer De Neuville was fined approximately €4m for hindering its franchisees’ commercial freedom by enforcing a policy centralising online sales through its website, thus preventing its franchisees from selling online through their own websites between March 2006 and June 2019; and by imposing a system whereby sales to business customers were allocated between franchisees. The FCA also ordered De Neuville to send the summary of the decision to all its franchisees and to publish it on its website and in the national newspaper Le Monde.

Comment: New enforcement priority or nudge to private actions?

In the years prior to this wave of decisions, the public enforcement of cases involving vertical restraints had been quite rare, despite the entry into force of the new EU Vertical Block Exemption Regulation and the accompanying Guidelines on 1 June 2022 [4].

It is surprising to note in this context that the FCA’s 2023-2024 and 2024-2025 roadmaps [2], make no mention of vertical restraints of this nature being a priority for enforcement action – the usual suspects are instead noted in the FCA’s announced priorities: tackling the challenges of the digital economy, supporting the ecological transition, and defending consumer purchasing power amid the rising cost of living. Whilst French consumers are renowned for their fine taste, one assumes that the FCA did not have the average purchaser of Rolex watches and luxury teas in mind in its strategic bid to boost consumer purchasing power.

While it is difficult to predict whether these cases form part of a more sustained drive to tackle anticompetitive restrictions in distribution networks, it is definitely noteworthy that in two of the three cases, the sanctions included measures to publicise the decision directly to the franchisees impacted as well as to the wider market. Beyond the obvious deterrent effect of such publicity, it seems clear that this is a bid by the FCA to encourage private actions following these decisions, so that compensation finds its way to those affected by the conduct.

In this way, the FCA, which has already built a strong reputation within Europe for being bold and proactive in its investigations and decisions, is once again leading the way, drawing attention back to a less popular but nonetheless crucial area of competition law enforcement.

With special thanks to Elia Lovy for their invaluable contributions in drafting this article.


[1] Commission Regulation (EU) 2022/720 of 10 May 2022 on the application of Article 101(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to categories of vertical agreements and concerted practices (VBER); Guidelines on Vertical Restraints (2022/C 248/01) setting out the principles for the assessment of vertical agreements under Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
[2] Autorité de la Concurrence, Feuille de Route 2024-2025 (feuille-de-route-5-FR ( and Feuille de Route 2023-2024 (feuille-de-route-4 (
[3] FCA, Decision 23-D-12 of 11 December 2023 (The Autorité de la concurrence fines Mariage Frères teas for hindering its distributors’ commercial freedom | Autorité de la concurrence (
[4] FCA, Decision 23-D-13 of 19 December 2023 (The Autorité de la concurrence fines Rolex €91,600,000 for prohibiting its authorised retailers from selling its watches online | Autorité de la concurrence (
[5] FCA, Decision 24-D-02 of 6 February 2024 (The Autorité de la concurrence fines Chocolats De Neuville for hindering its franchisees’ commercial freedom | Autorité de la concurrence (