What the Consumer and Market Authority will be doing in 2021

In 2021, the Dutch Consumer and Market Authority (ACM) will pay extra attention to the three main points on its agenda: the consequences of the corona pandemic, the transition to (more) sustainable energy and the digitisation of the economy.

For instance, the ACM is investing more into algorithms’ supervision, and it is working on a test to check these. Companies that sell products online must continue to provide consumers with clear information about their products and any recommendations. In the field of public transport, a market study is being completed into an app that makes it possible to plan journeys from door to door, and the ACM is monitoring the far-reaching consequences of corona on the public transport sector. Furthermore, in 2021, the ACM will focus on excessive medicine prices and prices of agricultural products. It also hopes to conclude a cartel investigation this year into a purchasing cartel in the agricultural sector and one in the field of reusable waste materials. The ACM has also announced that it will conclude investigations into consumer electronics and home furnishings this year. Here, possible improper pressure by suppliers on prices applied by retailers is investigated.

Corona: changing dynamics in the Dutch economy
The corona pandemic has caused an inevitable change in many sectors of the Dutch economy. Some sectors have shrunk, but others are experiencing growth, such as webshops and supermarkets. The laws that the ACM supervises offer the possibility to help solve corona problems. For example, the healthcare sector is allowed to cooperate extensively in the fight against the corona pandemic. In addition, in 2021, the ACM will again pay attention to vulnerable consumers affected by corona. For this group, extra information will be provided to inform them of their rights.

Furthermore, the consequences of corona for physical shops will be investigated. It is expected that increased online shopping will partly be permanent. This may result in more shops closing, and shopping streets and centres are becoming increasingly empty. The ACM is investigating whether it can contribute to solving this problem. Also, public transport has been hit hard by corona. Therefore, the ACM will follow this sector’s recovery and pay specific attention to the level playing field for passenger and freight transport by rail. It will also publish a renewed monitor on public transport with an eye on sustainability.

Energy transition
The Netherlands has committed to be carbon neutral by 2050. The Netherlands is therefore focusing on the transition to sustainable energy, such as hydrogen. The ACM wants to contribute to this by allowing more cooperation initiatives based on the draft guideline on sustainability agreements. The ACM will publish a new draft of these in early 2021. It also wants to give network operators room to experiment with favourable fuels for an energy transition, such as hydrogen. It is anticipated that energy transition will also involve extra costs, which may reduce the energy affordability. Besides sustainability, affordability is one of the significant consumer interests. That is why the ACM is going to investigate the affordability of energy in the long term.

Digital economy
The digital economy has many advantages, such as making it easy to compare and order products and services. The ACM, therefore, makes a strong case for a fast and affordable Internet. This digitalisation also has a downside: sometimes, companies use misleading sales tactics to sell their products and/or services online. Like the last year, the ACM will enforce this very actively and has already drawn up a guideline – see our earlier blog. Besides, algorithms’ supervision will be stepped up, and a test will be carried out to check how these algorithms work. Companies that offer (online) products to consumers must provide clear and visible information about this and online expressions. The ACM wants to give platforms that make door-to-door travel possible, Mobility as a Service (‘MaaS’), room to develop. These platforms can promote sustainability by increasing the use of public transport and shared bicycles and reducing dependence on private cars. Also, the ACM started an investigation last month into access to payment apps on smartphones. Another investigation – into the (access) conditions for a large app store will be completed this year. Finally, a market survey on the ICT systems in healthcare will be published this year.

Other focus areas of the ACM
In addition to the three main themes on the ACM agenda, this year, the ACM will also focus on excessive medicine prices; this can indicate abuse of a dominant position. There will also be a follow-up investigation into the prices of agricultural products in the so-called “agro-nutri” monitor. Two investigations into purchasing cartels in the agricultural sector and the field of reusable waste products may also be completed. The ACM will also investigate whether some suppliers of consumer electronics and home furnishings have exerted undue pressure on retailers to increase their prices; if so, retailers have not set their prices independently. This could have impeded competition between retailers.

Conclusion and tips for companies
This year, the ACM will actively enforce the use and operation of algorithms used by companies. The ACM also has misleading claims by companies that sell to consumers in its sights. Therefore, it is advisable to take the Guideline on misleading online consumers to heart and adjust your business operations accordingly. Vigilance is also required for distribution agreements and (unauthorised) price pressure on retailers by suppliers.