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29 Apr 2020

End price gouging: Which? launches report tool to combat coronavirus profiteering

Join the fight back against price gouging during the COVID-19 crisis

Today, Which? has launched a free tool that anyone can use to report instances of price gouging and profiteering, after we uncovered a spate of price gouging on online marketplaces Amazon and eBay.

With evidence of similar activity taking place on a wider scale and vulnerable people feeling pressurised into overpaying online, action needs to be taken.

Reports provided by the tool will be vital in helping Which?, online marketplaces, and the UK government identify the size and scale of the issue.

If you've seen examples of inflated prices online, report price-gouging to Which?to let us know.

CMA creates COVID-19 taskforce to combat price gouging

The Which? price gouging tool will help the CMA (Competition and Markets Authority) establish the scale of the problem and take action against the worst offenders where it is able to.

Both the CMA and Chartered Trading Standards Institute have raised serious concerns about problems with price gouging, and the Prime Minister has also warned traders against 'exploiting people's need' during a national emergency.

Which? has heard reports from hundreds of consumers that unscrupulous sellers have been taking advantage of the situation, and its investigations have uncovered huge price hikes on household products such as handwash, cleaning products and baby formula.

Some shoppers have felt pressured into buying these overpriced products because of a lack of alternative options available, including older and more vulnerable people who need access to vital hygiene products such as hand sanitiser.

Our guide on how to spot and report price gouging has more help and advice.

eBay and Amazon fail to prevent price gouging amid coronavirus

In March this year, our research uncovered hundreds of examples of price gouging of essential, everyday items on eBay and Amazon marketplaces. These included:

  • 250ml bottles of Carex, which often retail for just £1, were seen priced at Amazon and eBay for more than £10 each.
  • A 750ml bottle of Domestos bleach on eBay for £6.95, despite the accompanying picture showing that the bottle priced at £1.
  • A seller offering one 250ml bottle of Dettol Liquid Antiseptic Disinfectant, which usually costs less than £3, for £29.99.
  • Six packs of infant formula, which is vital for young babies who aren't being breastfed, for more than £100 - in Sainsbury's, infant formula usually costs around £10 a pack.

We also found a raft of overpriced items being aggressively bid on by shoppers in auction listings on eBay, including a bundle of three Dettol Sprays and three packs of antibacterial wipes with 78 bids and a current price of £210.

Some sellers were even attempting to sell 'used' items, including small bottles of hand santiser, for prices upwards of £50.

Both marketplaces condemned price-gouging and said they had put measures in place to address the issue, but follow-up research conducted weeks later easily found hundreds of active listings on similar products.

Which? readers report instances of price gouging

We asked Which? readers to help us combat price gouging by reporting instances they found both online and in the high street. In days we received hundreds of examples, from everyday essentials like hand wash, soap and antibacterial cleaning products, to toys, DIY and flour.

In many cases, these inflated prices affect older and more vulnerable people who need access to vital hygiene products such as hand sanitiser, but are unable to purchase it from local shops or supermarkets.

One told Which?: 'I'm disabled and struggle to leave my home, but the current crisis is forcing me to go out and struggle to get essentials when I normally get as much online as I can.

'My trust in buying from online marketplaces has been shattered, some items are fine if I find it at a reasonable price, but others I can't trust as they're either gouged, possibly diluted and therefore useless, or it's a scam listing and the item never existed to begin with.'

Another said: 'I paid £19.80 plus £5.25 for post and packaging for 2 x 250ml of hand sanitiser from a seller on eBay. Outrageous price but we are a captive audience and it was the cheapest I could find. Someone is getting very rich from this pandemic.'

Which? calls for further action on price gouging

Which? is calling for the government to introduce specific legislation to stop unjustifiable price hikes of essential items during times of emergency, as well as requiring online marketplaces to ensure compliance on their sites or face enforcement action.

New legislation would also give the UK a head start in tackling price-gouging during any future emergencies. The absence of legislation has made it harder to take action on this issue swiftly and left the UK trailing behind other countries that already have laws to combat price gouging during crises.

In the meantime, Which? believes online marketplaces need to bring in stricter, more effective controls and policies to tackle price gouging, and is encouraging the CMA to take strong enforcement action using its existing powers where appropriate.

Sue Davies, Head of Consumer Protection at Which?, said: 'It is unacceptable for people to be left at the mercy of unscrupulous sellers during a national emergency.'

'We're calling for people to report opportunistic coronavirus profiteers via our tool so that we can press home the need for swift action and put an end to price-gouging on basic goods.

'The government, working with the CMA, needs to step in with emergency legislation to crack down on price-gouging and keep the price of essential items reasonable during a crisis.'

Read the latest coronavirus news and advice from Which?