Designer brands raided by FTC over store fees

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Designer brands raided by FTC over store fees

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The standoff between large retailers and the country’s watchdog is intensifying as the Fair Trade Commission began its investigation into luxury brands sold at department stores and related commission charges on Monday.

According to the watchdog and retail industry sources yesterday, the FTC sent officials to the offices of eight leading brands including Louis Vuitton and Chanel. The inspectors secured documents and materials containing information about the contracts that each of the brands has signed with the nation’s three major department stores, Lotte, Shinsegae and Hyundai.

The other brands targeted were Gucci, Cartier, AmorePacific, Cheil Industries, LG Fashion and MCM.

“It is true that we have begun our investigation into domestic and foreign luxury brands that operate retail outlets in department stores and we are now looking into the deals they have with each other,” said an official at the FTC.

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“On Monday, the FTC visited our office in Cheongdam-dong [southern Seoul] and conducted an investigation,” said an official from Louis Vuitton. “We will cooperate with the investigation as much as we can.”

The investigation comes as smaller in-store vendors complain they face commission fees of up to 40 percent - quadruple what luxury brands pay - as department stores view them as an incentive to lure customers and drive business.

All vendors at department stores pay a percentage of revenue to their host but designer brands receive special treatment, leading to complaints that this hardly complies with President Lee’s campaign pledge to build a “fair society.”

Last month, the FTC asked large retailers including department stores and large discount stores to lower the fees levied on small vendors by up to 7 percent.

FTC Chairman Kim Dong-soo met with the heads of large retailers earlier last month to negotiate and, during their first meeting, retailers agreed to cuts of between 3 percent and 7 percent.

The watchdog requested the nation’s top three department stores, among others, to hand in detailed plans of how they intend to lower their charges.

Despite arguing that the government was meddling with free market principles, the three submitted a joint proposal on Sept. 30.

The situation soured when the FTC returned the document claiming that it “fell short of expectations” and “does not include details, such as how much they will lower commission fees for small vendors by as a percentage of their total operating profit.”

According to sources, the cuts the FTC is looking for equate to between 8 and 10 percent of the big stores’ total operating profits.

This would see Lotte surrender around 75 billion won (64.3 million), or roughly 10 percent of its operating profit last year. Hyundai and Shinsegae would lose half as much operating profit as Lotte.

In their joint proposal, the three retailers suggested giving up 10 billion won of their respective operating profits, which is lower than the 10 percent sought by the FTC. They were asked to resend their revised offer to the watchdog by last weekend but have now missed the deadline.

To make matters worse, the presidents of the three department stores are out of town this week as they participate in the 15th Asia-Pacific Retailers Convention & Exhibition in Singapore.

Industry officials note that the retailers are rebelling as no further negotiations will be possible until their bosses return home.

“We have no more [proposals] to submit to the FTC,” said an official from one of the three stores. “We will no longer be responding to FTC requests.”

The antitrust agency was originally set to start pressuring large discount stores and home shopping channels to lower their commissions once it had succeeded with the department stores.

But officials at the latter contend the FTC is to blame, as it first told them to devise voluntary measures to lower fees by up to 7 percent, then said that this was not good enough.

Meanwhile, credit ratings agency Moody’s recently reported that Korean department stores would risk putting their credit ratings in jeopardy by lowering their margins or commission fees. And lower credit ratings mean higher interest rates.


By Lee Eun-joo [angie@joongang.co.kr]


한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]

루이뷔통·샤넬 백화점 매장 조사

공정위, 8개 명품 브랜드 판매 수수료 실태 확인

공정거래위원회가 10일 루이뷔통·샤넬 등 명품 업체를 비롯해 백화점에 입점해 있는 국내외 유명 브랜드에 대한 실태조사에 착수했다. 이들 유명 브랜드가 롯데·현대·신세계 등 3대 백화점과 맺고 있는 판매 수수료 계약을 포함한 입점 계약 전반을 확인하기 위해서다.

 공정위가 실태조사에 나선 업체는 루이뷔통·샤넬·구찌·까르띠에 등 해외 브랜드 4곳과 아모레퍼시픽·제일모직·LG패션·MCM 등 국내 브랜드 4곳이다.

 공정위 관계자는 “10일부터 국내외 유명 브랜드 8곳에 대해 조사에 착수했다”면서 “백화점과 이들 브랜드 간 계약 전반에 대해 광범위하게 조사해 수수료 실태 등을 발표할 것”이라고 밝혔다.

 루이뷔통코리아 관계자는 “현재 공정위 직원들이 회사에 와서 백화점과의 계약서 등 관련 서류를 조사하고 있다”고 말했다.

 공정위의 이번 조사는 중소 협력업체에 대한 판매수수료 인하에 미온적인 백화점 업계를 압박하기 위한 것으로 보인다. 백화점이 명품 업체들에 대해 적용하고 있는 낮은 수수료와 각종 특혜를 파악해 백화점이 중소 협력업체에 수수료와 여러 비용을 지나치게 많이 부담지우고 있다는 점을 규명하겠다는 것이다. 이를 위해 공정위는 조만간 백화점과 거래하는 중소 협력업체에 대해서도 심층 조사를 벌일 방침이다.

 그동안 공정위는 백화점 업계가 중소 협력업체에는 30~40%에 이르는 높은 판매수수료 이외에 각종 명목의 판매 비용을 전가하면서 유명 브랜드에는 매장 인테리어 비용을 백화점 측이 부담하는 등 많은 혜택을 제공하고 있다고 주장해왔다. 명품업체 수수료를 올리면 중소업체 수수료를 내릴 여지가 생기지 않느냐는 얘기였다.

 업계 일각에선 이달 말 공정위가 3대 백화점에 대한 직권조사에 나설 것으로 내다보고 있다. 한 백화점 관계자는 “공정위의 명품업체 조사는 백화점 조사를 벌이기 위한 예정된 수순으로 본다”고 말했다.

 그러나 공정위 관계자는 백화점 업계에 대한 직권조사 계획이 없다고 거듭 밝혔다.

 공정위 관계자는 “지금 백화점 조사를 하면 울고 싶은 사람 뺨 때리는 격이어서 공정위가 욕을 먹게 돼 있다”면서 “백화점 조사는 하지 않을 것”이라고 말했다.

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