— By Nicholas Hirst
The head of one of Europe’s leading price comparison websites, Kelkoo, said it’s in danger of going under next year unless the European Commission takes market-stabilizing action in its six-year case against Google Shopping.
“We might not even survive another 18 months if there is not a decision soon,” Richard Stables, Kelkoo’s chief executive, warned in an interview Tuesday.
Stables accused Google of willfully destroying a series of budding online businesses and threatening to demote rivals that objected. Foundem, the first shopping website to formally complain about Google to the Commission, closed in December.
“This is about Google screwing over an entire industry and actually really hurting consumers,” added Stables, who said he decided to speak out because “we have got to the point where we have nothing left to lose.”
However, he said it was up to the Commission to decide what solutions would restore fair competition.
Google did not respond to a request for comment, but has vigorously resisted the Commission’s accusations it hurt competition. The Commission could not immediately be reached for comment.
The Commission opened its investigation in November 2010 and formally accused Google of hurting competition in the online price comparison space in 2015. The charges were updated last year. Margrethe Vestager, the commissioner for competition, told the European Parliament last month she was doing her “utmost” to wrap up the probe.
Citing documents released erroneously by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, Stables said Google had pursued a strategy to eliminate emerging rivals like Kelkoo since as far back as 2004. That included demoting comparison shopping websites in Google search results and luring away advertisers with the promise that they would appear in Google’s product search for free — only for Google to start charging once they had seized the market, Stables claims.
Stables also said Kelkoo’s subsidiary LeGuide had objected to Google scraping content like reviews. He claims Google responded that it would push the site down its search results if LeGuide resisted.
The price comparison sector has struggled over the past decade, forcing companies to sell off divisions and rivals to consolidate and stay afloat. After being snapped up for large sums, European websites Kelkoo, Ciao and LeGuide were sold. All are now managed under the Kelkoo umbrella by a U.K. investment group and employ about 230 people in Europe.
The company’s online shopping revenue continues to decline and time is running out.