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Consumer Rights.

Updated: 5 Mar 2021

Price gouging: how to spot it, report it and get your money back

When the price of products or services in high-demand is heavily inflated it’s important to report it so listings are removed.
Which?Editorial team

Report price gouging

Report price gouging during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and force the government into action.

Report price gouging

What is price gouging?

Price gouging is when businesses heavily inflate the price of products or services that are in high-demand.

This can lead to consumers paying over the odds, while the seller makes a profit.

The coronavirus outbreak has led to a number of online sellers hiking prices on items that have been difficult to get hold of.

Examples of price gouging

A Which? investigation found that some sellers on eBay and Amazon have dramatically increased their prices of household items during the COVID-19 crisis.

These items include:

  • Hand sanitiser
  • Antibacterial handwash
  • Bleach products
  • Baby formula
  • Medicines
  • Thermometers
  • Sanitary products

The types of price hikes we’ve heard about include:

  • A 250ml bottle of Carex, normally retailed for £1, priced for more than £10 on Amazon and eBay
  • Dettol bleach and cleaning sprays, being sold for ten times and in one case, 25 times the typical price.
  • Sterilising fluid for baby bottles for more than ten times the original price.

1 How to spot price gouging

Sometimes price gouging is easy and obvious to spot.

If you regularly buy a household product from local stores you’ll know how much it typically costs, though factor in what you consider is reasonable for postage as well.

Similarly, if you place regular repeat orders for products online, you’ll know how much you ‘should’ pay.

If you’re not entirely sure how much something would usually cost though, consider the following:

Ask yourself whether the price is reasonable. If it seems absurdly high, take a minute to look at the prices charged by other retailers.

Shop around and compare prices. It’s worth looking at what other well-known retailers are charging, so you get a better idea of what a reasonable price looks like.

Be aware of pressure selling tactics. Some sellers will try and push you into making a purchase, using messages such as:

  • ‘selling fast’
  • ‘42 looking at this product now’
  • ‘In high-demand’

Don’t let these tactics push you into spending more than you need to.

Check if the item has been used. Some unscrupulous sellers have been selling 'used' hand sanitiser for high prices on online marketplaces. If the item is used, consider whether the price seems fair, or whether you want to buy it at all.

Watch out for ‘package deals’. As well as multiples of the same item being sold together, you might also find different products sold as a single lot. Quite simply, work out how much they are costing you per unit to make sure you’re not overpaying.

Be careful when you’re placing your order. Listings can be misleading – we’ve seen examples of a low initial price, but heavily inflated postage. Always check the final price carefully at the checkout stage before you place your order.

Key Information

Take extra care when buying from unknown brands

If you’re faced with a brand you don’t recognise, or can’t find elsewhere as a reference point for a fair price, things get a little trickier.

Generally you should be wary of these sorts of products, especially if you can’t find any sort of online presence for the brand or manufacturer.

They could be ‘home-made’ or repackaged, and crucially it’s more difficult to get any reliable reassurance of quality – or to trust any apparent ‘claims’ about the product’s effectiveness.

2 How to get price gouging listings removed

It’s important to report price gouging on online marketplaces so that listings are removed.

If you come across examples when shopping, it’s worth taking a screenshot of the listing, including the price, the seller name and the date.

Each platform will have a different way for you to report the price hike, as explained below.

If you find an example on a platform not listed here, you can look for a ‘report listing’ button, or send it an email with your concerns.

Key Information

Report price gouging to online marketplaces

  • Amazon  If you spot something suspicious on Amazon, you’ll need to go through their contact us/help pages to flag the seller and the listing.
  • Ebay Ebay has a ‘report this listing’ option for every product. Follow these steps to report the price gouging.
  • Groupon  You can report suspicious activity to Groupon either on their live chat or by email.
  • Wowcher  There’s no specific way of reporting listings on Wowcher, but you can email Wowcher or use its live chat.
  • Facebook Marketplace  If you spot a listing on Facebook Marketplace, you’ll need to click on the name of the seller, click report, and follow the instructions.

3 How do I get my money back if I’ve been price gouged?

If you think an online business has charged you an unfair price, you do have rights to a refund.

Under the Consumer Contracts Regulations, you have a minimum of 14 days from when you place an online order to cancel it.

You then have a further 14 days from the date you notify the retailer that you’d like to cancel your order to return the goods to them.

Importantly there are exclusions to this like, CDs, DVDs or software if you've broken the seal on the wrapping, perishable items and tailor-made or personalised items. They also include goods with a seal for health protection and hygiene reasons that's been broken. 

If you bought from an individual, rather than a business, your rights are slightly different.

While the goods you receive must be as described, you’re not necessarily entitled to a refund, unless you don’t receive the item.

In this instance, it’s worth reporting the listing to the marketplace and explaining that you’d like a refund.

Most online marketplaces have protection and dispute-resolution systems built-in.