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Price gouging of Covid-19 essentials still taking place on marketplaces – Which?

By Jamie Harris, PA Science Technology Reporter

Price gouging is still taking place on a number of popular online marketplaces for Covid-19 essentials such as hand sanitiser, cleaning products and toilet roll, according to Which?.

The consumer group said it found hundreds of listings for essential items at inflated prices on sites including Amazon Marketplace and eBay, as well as evidence that thousands have actually been purchased.

It claims profiteering sellers taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic are pricing some products at least double the typical supermarket price.

Which? recognises current efforts being taken by sites but said they do not appear to go far enough and Government should now intervene.

Ebay said it does not dispute the existence of price gouging, but accused the consumer group of repeatedly misrepresenting “the reality of price gouging as part of its ongoing campaign against online marketplaces”.

Researchers found household brand names such as Andrex, Carex, Dettol and Kleenex being exploited by unscrupulous traders.

Searching Carex on Amazon Marketplace, they reported more than half (56%) sold for five times the typical supermarket price or more on the first page alone, while one in 10 (9%) were on sale for 10 times the standard price.

One person was found to be selling a pack of two 50ml bottles of Carex antibacterial hand gel priced at £24.99, which would usually cost about £2.

On eBay’s first page of listings for Dettol, the investigation found nine in 10 (85%) being sold for double the typical supermarket cost, as well as 8% priced 10 times higher.

For example, one seller was charging £12.99 for a 400ml bottle of Dettol Anti-Bacterial Disinfectant Spray, despite it usually being priced around £1 in shops.

“It cannot be right that potentially thousands of people have paid unjustifiably high prices to buy essential items during this Covid-19 crisis,” said Sue Davies, head of consumer protection at Which?.

“While welcome, it’s clear that measures being put in place by online marketplaces are not enough to stop coronavirus profiteering by those seeking to exploit the current situation.

“The Government, working with the CMA, needs to step in with emergency legislation to enable swift action to crack down on price-gouging and keep the price of essential items reasonable during crises both now and in the future.”

eBay responded by removing all listings flagged by Which?, but said it objects to the lack of proportional representation.

“It is highly irresponsible of Which? to repeatedly mis-represent the reality of price gouging as part of its ongoing campaign against online marketplaces,” a spokeswoman said.

“eBay gives people a great way to access the items they need – especially during lockdown – and we invest heavily in measures to ensure they can do so safely.

“While a small minority of unscrupulous sellers do attempt to take advantage of other users, effective safeguards have been in place for weeks to prevent this.”

Meanwhile, Amazon responded, saying: “There is no place for price gouging on Amazon.

“When a bad actor attempts to artificially raise prices on basic need products during a global health crisis, it’s bad for customers and the hundreds of thousands of honest businesses selling in our store.

“In line with our long-standing policy, we have recently blocked or removed hundreds of thousands of offers and pursued legal action against bad actors.”

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it has already written to hundreds of businesses asking them to explain their inflated prices and engaged with Amazon and eBay to find out more about price rises on their platforms.

“Our Covid-19 taskforce continues to scrutinise reports of potentially harmful sales practices, including inflated price rises,” a spokeswoman said.

“As well as complaints direct from the public, we are in touch with Which? and other partners, and we will consider any new information sent to us.

“The vast majority of businesses are doing the right thing, but where there is evidence that firms may have broken the law, we’ll be using our existing powers to the maximum possible extent.”

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