Ping’s fine for blocking the sale of their clubs online has been upheld but the brand have not ruled out a further appeal.
We reported last year how Ping had been fined £1.45m for blocking two online retailers from selling their clubs without proper custom-fittings.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) brought the case against Ping claiming they had broken the law.
Ping appealed the fine stating their firm belief that all golfers should be fitted in person for their products to avoid ‘expensive mistakes’.
However, their appeal has been unsuccessful after a tribunal ruled their actions were in breach of Competition Law.
“This landmark case sends an important signal that attempts by manufacturers to impose absolute bans on selling their products online are not permitted by law,” a CMA statement read.
The tribunal lowered the CMA’s original penalty by £200,000 to £1.25 million.
The CMA accepted Ping were pursuing a genuine commercial aim of promoting in-store custom fitting, but found that it could have achieved this through less restrictive means.
Following the judgment, Ping must allow retailers to sell online, though it may require them to meet certain conditions before doing so.
At the time of the original fine we believed Ping were right to appeal – and that view hasn’t changed.
Here at NCG, we are big believers in the custom-fitting process when it comes to golf clubs.
We carry out equipment tests all the time. Some brands send samples in our custom-fitted specs, some don’t.
We give everyone the option and we encourage them to send is custom-fitted gear. That’s because I think it has become clear over the years that we are often left wondering how much better a product might have performed had we been properly dialled in.
Of all the brands we deal with, Ping are right up there for making sure we only test products of theirs in our exact specs.
Ping believe strongly in custom-fitting so they can give their consumers the best possible version of their product.
You wouldn’t buy a pair of football boots that were roughly the right size, would you? You’d want to try them on first. You know that a 10 in an Adidas isn’t quite the same as a 10 in a Puma.
You’d at least want to know if you needed a thicker pair of socks for the perfect fit.
Ping’s stance is that you can’t get custom fitted over the internet. They don’t want their consumers to be using Ping clubs that are not going to help them ‘play your best’, as the company’s long-time strapline put it.
From their perspective, this is not about restricting the retailer’s ability to trade, which is what the CMA say it amounts to.
Rather it is about ensuring the consumer gets the right product for them. It’s hard to be critical of that.
So basically Ping have been saying no to extra business because they don’t want consumers buying their products without being fitted in person.
Pardon my ignorance, but surely a company should have that right? It’s their right to ensure that the consumer gets the best possible version of their product.
Ping have a very proud history. They are a brand built on values and principles. Their chairman would not sign off on a new driver if it went further but was less forgiving.
They have not ruled out challenging the decision.
“Ping Europe is very disappointed that despite the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) finding that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) erred in law, the CAT has nonetheless decided to uphold the CMA’s earlier determination, objecting to Ping Europe’s Internet Policy which restricts the sale of PING golf clubs over the internet,” said John Clark, Managing Director of Ping Europe.
“However, Ping welcomes the finding in the ruling that Ping Europe’s policy is based on a truly genuine and legitimate desire for consumers to be custom fitted to enable them to benefit by playing their best golf.
“Since pioneering custom fitting more than 50 years ago, we’ve been committed to helping golfers play better and enjoy the game more by offering the most comprehensive, industry- leading custom fitting processes available.
“While we are very pleased that the CAT shares our view that custom fitting is a significant benefit to the consumer, today’s decision threatens that approach as we firmly believe an in-person, dynamic custom fitting is the best way for golfers to acquire Ping golf clubs and to avoid consumers making an expensive mistake.
“We are evaluating the CAT judgment to determine our next appropriate steps, including possibly seeking permission to challenge the CAT ruling.”
However, the CMA say blocking of online sales is against the law as it prevents consumers from getting the best deals.
“Today’s judgment sends a clear message to companies that try to stop customers shopping online for their products – they could be breaking the law,”said Ann Pope, senior director for antitrust enforcement.
“This matters because it removes a barrier to customers shopping around for more affordable goods.
“The internet is an increasingly important sales channel and retailers’ ability to sell online, and reach as wide a customer base as possible, should not be unduly restricted by manufacturers.”