OFT re-opens exclusive PC supply inquiry

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is to re-examine the question of whether exclusive supply deals between high-street stores and PC manufacturers restrict consumer choice.

The decision follows the submission of fresh research by the John Lewis Partnership to the OFT in May. The retailer argued that the exclusive supply deals between electrical retailer Dixons and PC manufacturers Compaq and Packard Bell could create a monopoly and drive up prices.

Despite the research, the OFT maintained that exclusive supply deals did not fall foul of competition policy and said it would not re-open its original inquiry into the PC market.

But in a written response to a parliamentary question tabled by Nick Palmer MP last week, Kim Howells, consumer affairs and competition minister, said: “The OFT is actively considering a complaint in this area.”

An OFT spokesman says: “We are not going to launch an entire investigation, but we will be examining the specifics of the complaint made with regard to the exclusive supply deals.”

The OFT refused to confirm that the complaint referred to had come from John Lewis.

Palmer says: “This is a welcome development not least because it may persuade the companies involved to look at their position and consider relaxing their exclusive agreements voluntarily.”

But a spokeswoman for Compaq says: “We are confident that the OFT will stick by its original findings.”

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