Angry rivals of high-street retailer Dixons Stores Group have called for its position in the market to be re-investigated by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) after it signed an exclusive distribution deal with two PC vendors last week.
Retailers John Lewis and Kingfisher, owner of Comet and Tempo, have attacked the deals which offer Dixons sole rights to future models of certain home PCs from Compaq and Packard Bell.
John Lewis and Kingfisher claimed the deals stifle choice and could lead to price rises in the UK market as rival outlets pull out of the home PC market.
John Lewis is believed to have already lost its supply of Compaq PCs as a result of the deals, and Packard Bell said its supply will end on 30 June.
John Lewis director Nigel Wreford-Brown said legal action is an option if the OFT does not re-open the competition inquiry into Dixons, which it started last year.
Last year John Bridgeman, director general of fair trading, found that "no individual retailer or manufacturer has market power in the home PC market".
Dixons, which is the biggest player in high-street consumer PC sales, rejected the latest claims. In a statement, John Clare, the group's chief executive, said: "In that fiercely competitive market, with many manufacturers supplying direct to end-users and an enormous choice of products and brands, it is vital that PC brands find the lowest-cost route to market. By working with an exclusive distributor it's possible for suppliers to minimise overheads in the UK by using our infrastructure to compete with low prices," he said.
"Dixons Group prices are highly competitive - that's why we can continue to thrive in a highly price-sensitive market. By maintaining a low-margin position we can sell in volume."
Chips Godfrey, UK managing director at retail strategy consultant Levin Consulting, said it was "unfortunate for retailers, but not unfair to consumers". He said the range of PCs available from retailers ensures that Dixons cannot have an unfair advantage.
An unnamed source at a Dixons rival said the deals with Compaq and Packard Bell could become "the tip of the iceberg", as the company is reported to be discussing similar deals with other PC makers.
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