European Union regulators have launched a probe into e-commerce practices in the wake of reports that major companies are restricting online sales, which hinders the growth of the digital market in Europe, said Margrethe Vestager, the commissioner in charge of competition policy.  

According to the European Commission, during 2014 almost half of all EU consumers shopped online. While this is good news for the online market, it raises the possibility of cross-border restrictive business practices. The Commission reports that only 15 percent of EU consumers bought products from a seller based in another EU Member State—suggesting that restrictions such as language barriers, consumer preferences, different legislations and anti-competitive practices exist.

"It is high time to remove remaining barriers to ecommerce, which is a vital part of a true Digital Single Market in Europe," Vestager told reporters at a press conference hosted by the German competition authority last week. “The envisaged sector inquiry will help the Commission to understand and tackle barriers to e-commerce to the benefit of European citizens and business.”

Vestager’s investigation aims to identify specific anti-competitive concerns and ensure compliance with EU rules on restrictive business practices and “abuse of dominant market positions”. The agency plans on gathering information from stakeholders across the Member States. In turn, this will be used as evidence to enforce competition laws in e-commerce to boost the “Digital Single Market” and ensure fair play among businesses.

The Commission retains the right to launch investigations if there is sufficient evidence of misconduct. Most recently, Google has been under fierce regulatory scrutiny for its dominance of Europe’s online search market.