Bra Price-Fixing Probe Launched By Watchdog
The country's biggest department store chains are facing investigation over suggestions they colluded with a bra manufacturer to fix prices.
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) alleged that the manufacturer of the Shock-Absorber range, DB Apparel UK, entered into nine anti-competitive agreements with John Lewis, Debenhams and House of Fraser between 2008 and 2011.
The trading watchdog has requested a response to the claims from the four companies.
It said it believed they infringed competition law by entering into resale price maintenance deals that set a fixed or minimum resale price on products within the sports bra range across the country.
The OFT said that during the three years in question the Shock-Absorber range, once advertised in a campaign featuring tennis player Anna Kournikova with the slogan "Only the ball should bounce", had a market share of about 15%.
Ann Pope, the regulator's senior director of services, said: "The OFT takes allegations of price-fixing seriously.
"Resale price maintenance limits competition between retailers and can lead to consumers paying higher prices.
"We will carefully consider the parties' representations to the OFT's Statement of Objections before deciding whether competition law has in fact been broken."
House of Fraser was the first of the retailers to release a statement in response to the allegations.
It said: "We are co-operating fully with the Office of Fair Trading and the ongoing investigation and will respond accordingly.
"We are confident that we have been operating within all laws and regulations and are very supportive of any initiative which ensures pricing policies are fair for our customers."
Debenhams said: "Debenhams Plc disputes these provisional findings of the OFT but is not in a position to comment further at this stage.
"The matter is being dealt with by its external lawyers," it added.
John Lewis only said: "John Lewis always strives to operate within the law and comply with regulations. We are fully cooperating with the OFT and will respond in due course."