16 CFR 240.1

240.1 Purpose of the Guides.
240.2 Applicability of the law. 
240.3 Definition of seller
240.4 Definition of customer.
240.5 Definition of competing customers.
240.6 Interstate commerce. 
240.7 Services or facilities. 
240.8 Need for a plan. 
240.9 Proportionally equal terms.
240.10 Availability to all competing customers.
240.11 Wholesaler or third party performance of seller's obligations. 
240.12 Checking customer's use of payments.
240.13 Customer's and third party liability. 
240.14 Meeting competition.
240.15 Cost justification.

§ 240.1 Purpose of the Guides

The purpose of these Guides is to provide assistance to businesses seeking to comply with sections 2 (d) and (e) of the Robinson-Patman Act (the "Act"). The guides are based on the language of the statute, the legislative history, administrative and court decisions, and the purposes of the Act. Although the Guides are consistent with the case law, the Commission has sought to provide guidance in some areas where no definitive guidance is provided by the case law. The Guides are what their name implies--guidelines for compliance with the law. They do not have the force of law.

§ 240.2 Applicability of the law.

(a) The substantive provisions of section 2 (d) and (e) apply only under certain circumstances. Section 2(d) applies only to:

  1. A seller of products
  2. Engaged in interstate commerce  
  3. That either directly or through an intermediary  
  4. Pays a customer for promotional services or facilities provided by the customer  
  5. In connection with the resale (not the initial sale between the seller and the customer) of the seller's products  
  6. Where the customer is in competition with one or more of the seller's other customers also engaged in the resale of the seller's products of like grade and quality.

(b) Section 2(e) applies only to:

  1. A seller of products  
  2. Engaged in interstate commerce
  3. That either directly or through an intermediary
  4. Furnishes promotional services or facilities to a customer
  5. In connection with the resale (not the initial sale between the seller and the customer) of the seller's products
  6. Where the customer is in competition with one or more of the seller's other customers also engaged in the resale of the seller's products of like grade and quality.

(c) Additionally, section 5 of the FTC Act may apply to buyers of products for resale or to third parties. See 240.13 of these Guides.

§ 240.3 Definition of seller.

Seller includes any person (manufacturer, wholesaler, distributor, etc.) who sells products for resale, with or without further processing. For example, selling candy to a retailer is a sale for resale without processing. Selling corn syrup to a candy manufacturer is a sale for resale with processing.

§ 240.4 Definition of customer.

A customer is any person who buys for resale directly from the seller, or the seller's agent or broker. In addition, a "customer" is any buyer of the seller's product for resale who purchases from or through a wholesaler or other intermediate reseller. The word "customer" which is used in section 2(d) of the Act includes "purchaser" which is used in section 2(e).

Note: There may be some exceptions to this general definition of "customer." For example, the purchaser of distress merchandise would not be considered a "customer" simply on the basis of such purchase. Similarly, a retailer or purchasing solely from other retailers, or making sporadic purchases from the seller or one that does not regularly sell the seller's product, or that is a type of retail outlet not usually selling such products (e.g., a hardware store stocking a few isolated food items) will not be considered a "customer" of the seller unless the seller has been put on notice that such retailer is selling its product.

Example 1: A manufacturer sells to some retailers directly and to others through wholesalers. Retailer A purchases the manufacturer's product from a wholesaler and resells some of it to Retailer B. Retailer A is a customer of the manufacturer. Retailer B is not a customer unless the fact that it purchases the manufacturer's product is known to the manufacturer.

Example 2: A manufacturer sells directly to some independent retailers, to the headquarters of chains and of retailer-owned cooperatives, and to wholesalers. The manufacturer offers promotional services or allowances for promotional activity to be performed at the retail level. With respect to such services and allowances, the direct-buying independent retailers, the headquarters of the chains and retailer-owned cooperatives, and the wholesaler's independent retailer customers are customers of the manufacturer. Individual retail outlets of the chains and the members of the retailer-owned cooperatives are not customers of the manufacturer.

Example 3: A seller offers to pay wholesalers to advertise the seller's product in the wholesalers' order books or in the wholesalers' price lists directed to retailers purchasing from the wholesalers. The wholesalers and retailer-owned cooperative headquarters and headquarters of other bona-fide buying groups are customers. Retailers are not customers for purposes of this promotion.

§ 240.5 Definition of competing customers.

Competing customers are all businesses that compete in the resale of the seller's products of like grade and quality at the same functional level of distribution regardless of whether they purchase directly from the seller or through some intermediary.

Example 1: Manufacturer A, located in Wisconsin and distributing shoes nationally, sells shoes to three competing retailers that sell only in the Roanoke, Virginia area. Manufacturer A has no other customers selling in Roanoke or its vicinity. If Manufacturer A offers its promotion to one Roanoke customer, it should include all three, but it can limit the promotion to them. The trade area should be drawn to include retailers who compete.

Example 2: A national seller has direct-buying retailing customers reselling exclusively within the Baltimore area, and other customers within the area purchasing through wholesalers. The seller may lawfully engage in a promotional campaign confined to the Baltimore area, provided that it affords all of its retailing customers within the area the opportunity to participate, including those that purchase through wholesalers.

Example 3: B manufactures and sells a brand of laundry detergent for home use. In one metropolitan area, B's detergent is sold by a grocery store and a discount department store. If these stores compete with each other, any allowance, service or facility that B makes available to the grocery store should also be made available on proportionally equal terms to the discount department store.

§ 240.6 Interstate commerce.

The term "interstate commerce" has not been precisely defined in the statute. In general, if there is any part of a business which is not wholly within one state (for example, sales or deliveries of products, their subsequent distribution or purchase, or delivery of supplies or raw materials), the business may be subject to sections 2(d) and 2(e) of the Act. (The commerce standard for sections 2 (d) and (e) is at least as inclusive as the commerce standard for section 2(a).) Sales or promotional offers within the District of Columbia and most United States possessions are also covered by the Act.

§ 240.7 Services or facilities.

The terms "services" and "facilities" have not been exactly defined by the statute or in decisions. One requirement, however, is that the services or facilities be used primarily to promote the resale of the seller's product by the customer. Services or facilities that relate primarily to the original sale are covered by section 2(a). The following list provides some examples--the list is not exhaustive--of promotional services and facilities covered by sections 2 (d) and (e):

Cooperative advertising; 
Handbills; Demonstrators and demonstrations;
Prizes or merchandise for conducting promotional contests; 
Special packaging, or package sizes.

§ 240.8 Need for a plan.

A seller who makes payments or furnishes services that come under the Act should do so according to a plan. If there are many competing customers to be considered or if the plan is complex, the seller would be well advised to put the plan in writing. What the plan should include is described in more detail in the remainder of these Guides. Briefly, the plan should make payments or services functionally available to all competing customers on proportionally equal terms. (See 240.9 of this part.) Alternative terms and conditions should be made available to customers who cannot, in a practical sense, take advantage of some of the plan's offerings. The seller should inform competing customers of the plans available to them, in time for them to decide whether to participate. (See 240.10 of this part.)

§ 240.9 Proportionally equal terms.

  1. Promotional services and allowances should be made available to all competing customers on proportionally equal terms. No single way to do this is prescribed by law. Any method that treats competing customers on proportionally equal terms may be used. Generally, this can be done most easily by basing the payments made or the services furnished on the dollar volume or on the quantity of the product purchased during a specified period. However, other methods that result in proportionally equal allowances and services being offered to all competing customers are acceptable.
  2. When a seller offers more than one type of service, or payments for more than one type of service, all the services or payments should be offered on proportionally equal terms. The seller may do this by offering all the payments or services at the same rate per unit or amount purchased. Thus, a seller might offer promotional allowances of up to 12 cents a case purchased for expenditures on either newspaper advertising or handbills.

Example 1: A seller may offer to pay a specified part (e.g., 50 percent) of the cost of local advertising up to an amount equal to a specified percentage (e.g., 5 percent) of the dollar volume of purchases during a specified period of time.

Example 2: A seller may place in reserve for each customer a specified amount of money for each unit purchased, and use it to reimburse these customers for the cost of advertising the seller's product.

Example 3: A seller should not provide an allowance or service on a basis that has rates graduated with the amount of goods purchased, as, for instance, 1 percent of the first $ 1,000 purchased per month, 2 percent of the second $ 1,000 per month, and 3 percent of all over that.

Example 4: A seller should not identify or feature one or a few customers in its own advertising without making the same service available on proportionally equal terms to customers competing with the identified customer or customers.

Example 5: A seller who makes employees available or arranges with a third party to furnish personnel for purposes of performing work for a customer should make the same offer available on proportionally equal terms to all other competing customers or offer useable and suitable services or allowances on proportionally equal terms to competing customers for whom such services are not useable and suitable.(1)

Example 6: A seller should not offer to pay a straight line rate for advertising if such payment results in a discrimination between competing customers; e.g., the offer of $ 1.00 per line for advertising in a newspaper that charges competing customers different amounts for the same advertising space. The straight line rate is an acceptable method for allocating advertising funds if the seller offers small retailers that pay more than the lowest newspaper rate an alternative that enables them to obtain the same percentage of their advertising cost as large retailers. If the $ 1.00 per line allowance is based on 50 percent of the newspaper's lowest contract rate of $ 2.00 per line, the seller should offer to pay 50 percent of the newspaper advertising cost of smaller retailers that establish, by invoice or otherwise, that they paid more than that contract rate.

Example 7: A seller offers each customer promotional allowances at the rate of one dollar for each unit of its product purchased during a defined promotional period. If Buyer A purchases 100 units, Buyer B 50 units, and Buyer C 25 units, the seller maintains proportional equality by allowing $ 100 to Buyer A, $ 50 to Buyer B, and $ 25 to Buyer C, to be used for the Buyers' expenditures on promotion.

§ 240.10 Availability to all competing customers.

  1. Functional availability:
    1. The seller should take reasonable steps to ensure that services and facilities are useable in a practical sense by all competing customers. This may require offering alternative terms and conditions under which customers can participate. When a seller provides alternatives in order to meet the availability requirement, it should take reasonable steps to ensure that the alternatives are proportionally equal, and the seller should inform competing customers of the various alternative plans.  
    2. The seller should insure that promotional plans or alternatives offered to retailers do not bar any competing retailers from participation, whether they purchase directly from the seller or through a wholesaler or other intermediary.
    3. When a seller offers to competing customers alternative services or allowances that are proportionally equal and at least one such offer is useable in a practical sense by all competing customers, and refrains from taking steps to prevent customers from participating, it has satisfied its obligation to make services and allowances "functionally available" to all customers. Therefore, the failure of any customer to participate in the program does not place the seller in violation of the Act.

Example 1: A manufacturer offers a plan for cooperative advertising on radio, TV, or in newspapers of general circulation. Because the purchases of some of the manufacturer's customers are too small this offer is not useable in a practical sense by them. The manufacturer should offer them alternative(s) on proportionally equal terms that are useable in a practical sense by them.

Example 2: A seller furnishes demonstrators to large department store customers. The seller should provide alternatives useable in a practical sense on proportionally equal terms to those competing customers who cannot use demonstrators. The alternatives may be services useable in a practical sense that are furnished by the seller, or payments by the seller to customers for their advertising or promotion of the seller's product.

Example 3: A seller offers to pay 75 percent of the cost of advertising in daily newspapers, which are the regular advertising media of the seller's large or chain store customers, but a lesser amount, such as only 50 percent of the cost, or even nothing at all, for advertising in semi-weekly, weekly, or other newspapers or media that may be used by small retail customers. Such a plan discriminates against particular customers or classes of customers. To avoid that discrimination, the seller in offering to pay allowances for newspaper advertising should offer to pay the same percent of the cost of newspaper advertising for all competing customers in a newspaper of the customer's choice, or at least in those newspapers that meet the requirements for second class mail privileges. While a small customer may be offered, as an alternative to advertising in daily newspapers, allowances for other media and services such as envelope stuffers, handbills, window banners, and the like, the small customer should have the choice to use its promotional allowances for advertising similar to that available to the larger customers, if it can practicably do so.

Example 4: A seller offers short term displays of varying sizes, including some which are useable by each of its competing customers in a practical business sense. The seller requires uniform, reasonable certification of performance by each customer. Because they are reluctant to process the required paper work, some customers do not participate. This fact does not place the seller in violation of the functional availability requirement and it is under no obligation to provide additional alternatives.

  1. Notice of available services and allowances: The seller has an obligation to take steps reasonably designed to provide notice to competing customers of the availability of promotional services and allowances. Such notification should include enough details of the offer in time to enable customers to make an informed judgment whether to participate. When some competing customers do not purchase directly from the seller, the seller must take steps reasonably designed to provide notice to such indirect customers. Acceptable notification may vary. The following is a non-exhaustive list of acceptable methods of notification:
    1. By providing direct notice to customers;  
    2. When a promotion consists of providing retailers with display materials, by including the materials within the product shipping container;  
    3. By including brochures describing the details of the offer in shipping containers;  
    4. By providing information on shipping containers or product packages of the availability and essential features of an offer, identifying a specific source for further information;  
    5. By placing at reasonable intervals in trade publications of general and widespread distribution announcements of the availability and essential features of promotional offers, identifying a specific source for further information; and  
    6. If the competing customers belong to an identifiable group on a specific mailing list, by providing relevant information of promotional offers to customers on that list. For example, if a product is sold lawfully only under Government license (alcoholic beverages, etc.), the seller may inform only its customers holding licenses.
  2. A seller may contract with intermediaries or other third parties to provide notice. See 240.ll.

Example l: A seller has a plan for the retail promotion of its product in Philadelphia. Some of its retailing customers purchase directly and it offers the plan to them. Other Philadelphia retailers purchase the seller's product through wholesalers. The seller may use the wholesalers to reach the retailing customers that buy through them, either by having the wholesalers notify these retailers, or by using the wholesalers' customer lists for direct notification by the seller.

Example 2: A seller that sells on a direct basis to some retailers in an area, and to other retailers in the area through wholesalers, has a plan for the promotion of its product at the retail level. If the seller directly notifies competing direct purchasing retailers, and competing retailers purchasing through the wholesalers, the seller is not required to notify its wholesalers.

Example 3: A seller regularly promotes its product at the retail level and during the year has various special promotional offers. The seller's competing customers include large direct-purchasing retailers and smaller retailers that purchase through wholesalers. The promotions offered can best be used by the smaller retailers if the funds to which they are entitled are pooled and used by the wholesalers on their behalf (newspaper advertisements, for example). If retailers purchasing through a wholesaler designate that wholesaler as their agent for receiving notice of, collecting, and using promotional allowances for them, the seller may assume that notice of, and payment under, a promotional plan to such wholesaler constitutes notice and payment to the retailer. The seller must have a reasonable basis for concluding that the retailers have designated the wholesaler as their agent.

§ 240.11 Wholesaler or third party performance of seller's obligations.

A seller may contract with intermediaries, such as wholesalers, distributors, or other third parties, to perform all or part of the seller's obligations under sections 2(d) and (e). The use of intermediaries does not relieve a seller of its responsibility to comply with the law. Therefore, in contracting with an intermediary, a seller should ensure that its obligations under the law are in fact fulfilled.

§ 240.12 Checking customer's use of payments.

The seller should take reasonable precautions to see that the services the seller is paying for are furnished and that the seller is not overpaying for them. The customer should expend the allowance solely for the purpose for which it was given. If the seller knows or should know that what the seller is paying for or furnishing is not being properly used by some customers, the improper payments or services should be discontinued.

§ 240.13 Customer's and third party liability.

  1. Customer's liability: Sections 2 (d) and (e) apply to sellers and not to customers. However, the Commission may proceed under section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act against a customer who knows, or should know, that it is receiving a discriminatory price through services or allowances not made available on proportionally equal terms to its competitors engaged in the resale of a seller's product. Liability for knowingly receiving such a discrimination may result whether the discrimination takes place directly through payments or services, or indirectly through deductions from purchase invoices or other similar means.

Example 1: A customer should not induce or receive advertising allowances for special promotion of the seller's product in connection with the customer's anniversary sale or new store opening when the customer knows or should know that such allowances, or suitable alternatives, are not available on proportionally equal terms to all other customers competing with it in the distribution of the seller's product.

Example 2: Frequently the employees of sellers or third parties, such as brokers, perform in-store services for their grocery retailer customers, such as stocking of shelves, building of displays and checking or rotating inventory, etc. A customer operating a retail grocery business should not induce or receive such services when the customer knows or should know that such services (or usable and suitable alternative services) are not available on proportionally equal terms to all other customers competing with it in the distribution of the seller's product.

Example 3: Where a customer has entered into a contract, understanding, or arrangement for the purchase of advertising with a newspaper or other advertising medium that provides for a deferred rebate or other reduction in the price of the advertising, the customer should advise any seller from whom reimbursement for the advertising is claimed that the claimed rate of reimbursement is subject to a deferred rebate or other reduction in price. In the event that any rebate or adjustment in the price is received, the customer should refund to the seller the amount of any excess payment or allowance.

Example 4: A customer should not induce or receive an allowance in excess of that offered in the seller's advertising plan by billing the seller at "vendor rates" or for any other amount in excess of that authorized in the seller's promotional program.

  1. Third party liability: Third parties, such as advertising media, may violate section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act through double or fictitious rates or billing. An advertising medium, such as a newspaper, broadcast station, or printer of catalogues, that publishes a rate schedule containing fictitious rates (or rates that are not reasonably expected to be applicable to a representative number of advertisers), may violate section 5 if the customer uses such deceptive schedule or invoice for a claim for an advertising allowance, payment or credit greater than that to which it would be entitled under the seller's promotional offering. Similarly, an advertising medium that furnishes a customer with an invoice that does not reflect the customer's actual net advertising cost may violate section 5 if the customer uses the invoice to obtain larger payments than it is entitled to receive.

Example 1: A newspaper has a "national" rate and a lower "local" rate. A retailer places an advertisement with the newspaper at the local rate for a seller's product for which the retailer will seek reimbursement under the seller's cooperative advertising plan. The newspaper should not send the retailer two bills, one at the national rate and another at the local rate actually charged.

Example 2: A newspaper has several published rates. A large retailer has in the past earned the lowest rate available. The newspaper should not submit invoices to the retailer showing a high rate by agreement between them unless the invoice discloses that the retailer may receive a rebate and states the amount (or approximate amount) of the rebate, if known, and if not known, the amount of rebate the retailer could reasonably anticipate.

Example 3: A radio station has a flat rate for spot announcements, subject to volume discounts. A retailer buys enough spots to qualify for the discounts. The station should not submit an invoice to the retailer that does not show either the actual net cost or the discount rate.

Example 4: An advertising agent buys a large volume of newspaper advertising space at a low, unpublished negotiated rate. Retailers then buy the space from the agent at a rate lower than they could buy this space directly from the newspaper. The agent should not furnish the retailers invoices showing a rate higher than the retailers actually paid for the space.

§ 240.14 Meeting competition.

A seller charged with discrimination in violation of sections 2 (d) and (e) may defend its actions by showing that particular payments were made or services furnished in good faith to meet equally high payments or equivalent services offered or supplied by a competing seller. This defense is available with respect to payments or services offered on an area-wide basis, to those offered to new as well as old customers, and regardless of whether the discrimination has been caused by a decrease or an increase in the payments or services offered. A seller must reasonably believe that its offers are necessary to meet a competitor's offer.

§ 240.15 Cost justification.

It is no defense to a charge of unlawful discrimination in the payment of an allowance or the furnishing of a service for a seller to show that such payment or service could be justified through savings in the cost of manufacture, sale or delivery.

1. The discriminatory purchase of display or shelf space, whether directly or by means of so-called allowances, may violate the Act, and may be considered an unfair method of competition in violation of section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act.