The introduction of a “price index” by marketplaces, which is calculated based on the cost of one product on different sites and can be taken into account in search results, has become the reason for new claims from sellers. The latter see the tool as an imposition of contract terms, asking the Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) through social activists to check the issue. Under a moratorium on inspections, the regulator can only inform companies about the negative consequences of their behavior, lawyers say.
The general director of the ANO “Digitalization and New Technologies” (CNT), a member of the public council under the FAS, Alexey Kozhevnikov, asked the head of the service, Maxim Shaskolsky, to check the “price index” used by marketplaces for violations of antimonopoly legislation. Kommersant has a copy of the letter dated February 1. According to Alexey Kozhevnikov, the request was sent based on the results of requests from sellers.
As stated in the letter, most marketplaces assign a “price index” to products relative to the cost on their site and the prices of competitors. If prices differ, the product is assigned a higher or lower “price index”, which is taken into account when ranking in searches and participating in loyalty programs, as indicated in the appeal. Selling goods on a competitive site at a cheaper price, Mr. Kozhevnikov writes, can lead to a decrease in search results and exclusion from the loyalty program.
According to CST, the “price index” mechanism imposes unfavorable conditions on sales management on sellers, forcing them to equalize prices to the maximum based on the most expensive tariffs. And the tariffs of marketplaces, the letter notes, differ significantly in commission, logistics costs and other components. Alexey Kozhevnikov asks the FAS to study the practice for signs of collective abuse of a dominant position by marketplaces through imposing contract terms and coordinating the activities of sellers in terms of pricing policy. The FAS told Kommersant that they would consider the letter, and these issues would be included on the agenda of the next meeting of the expert council under the service for the development of competition in the field of information technology.
As one of the sellers explains to Kommersant, the largest marketplaces began to actively implement the “price index” in 2023 to guarantee the best offer to consumers and increase sales. The index, according to him, is displayed in the personal account of sellers, but the calculation of the indicator is not transparent for them. The tool also limits sellers from setting more favorable prices on their own website, adds Kommersant’s interlocutor.
Ozon explains that to calculate the “price index,” prices are compared with similar products within the site and with positions on other resources, and products with the most favorable prices rise “a little higher” in the search. Yandex Market says that the “price index” does not affect the place in the search results, and the place depends on the price of the product by 18%, which is less than the influence of the exact description (27.5%) and user preferences (25.5 %). Wildberries also say that the “price index” is one of the ranking factors. Discounts do not depend on the indicator, indicate Ozon and Wildberries.
Alexandra Zvyagintseva, head of market research at Digital & Analogue Partners, says that algorithmic pricing linked to competitors’ prices may become a reason for the attention of the FAS. But the service will have to understand how the algorithms work and identify whether there are negative effects on sellers or competition in general, she points out. Vadim Kuzmin, head of the antimonopoly regulation practice at Tomashevskaya & Partners, recalls that the FAS considered similar circumstances in relation to the hotel booking service Booking.com, establishing that it was imposing the terms of the agreement on compliance with price parity. As a result, a fine of 1.3 billion rubles was imposed on the service.
But, adds Vadim Kuzmin, marketplaces are protected from FAS inspections, as they are included in the register of IT companies accredited by the Ministry of Digital Development, for which antimonopoly control is excluded until the end of 2024. Tatyana Kiparisova, a lawyer in the antimonopoly and regulatory practice of Vegas Lex, notes that for now the FAS can conduct an independent analysis of information in open sources, request copies of contracts and documents with the terms of loyalty programs from market participants. In general, before the expiration of the antimonopoly immunity, the FAS can only inform companies about the negative consequences of such behavior, Mr. Kuzmin points out.