Which? urges Government price controls to stop online coronavirus profiteering

A person uses soap before washing their hands. PA Photo. Picture date: Wednesday March 4, 2020. See PA story HEALTH Coronavir
A person uses soap before washing their hands. PA Photo. Picture date: Wednesday March 4, 2020. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Philip Toscano/PA Wire

The Government should place price controls on essential items being sold online to stop profiteering during the coronavirus pandemic, consumer group Which? has said.

It comes after the group said it had found more evidence of items such as handwash, cleaning products and baby formula for sale online at greatly inflated prices.

Last month, Which? and regulator the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) urged more action to be taken to stop the practice, and the Prime Minister warned profiteering during the crisis would not be tolerated.

However, Which? said it has found hundreds more cases on platforms such as Amazon and eBay.

Despite many listings being removed by both firms, the consumer group said it had found new listings, including bottles of Carex handwash priced at £40 and Dettol cleaner priced at £59.99.

Researchers for Which? also said they found what appeared to be listings which had been previously removed by Amazon back on the site with inflated prices.

Which? said it was now time for the Government to step in with emergency legislation to cap prices on essential products to stop the practice from continuing.

Sue Davies, head of consumer protection at Which?, said: “Amazon and eBay seem unable to stop coronavirus profiteering, leaving some unscrupulous sellers to have a field day exploiting people by selling essential items at appallingly high prices.

“It is time for the Government, working with the CMA, to step in with strong action to stamp out price gouging and keep the price of vital goods reasonable during this difficult time.”

In a statement given to Which?, eBay said: “We have extremely effective measures in place to combat price gouging – something that we’ve communicated to Which? multiple times – with heavy restrictions on the listing of some in-demand products at unreasonable prices, resulting in five million automatically blocked attempts to price gouge, an additional 600,000 removed, and thousands of seller accounts suspended.”

Amazon told Which?: “There is no place for price gouging on Amazon.

“We are disappointed that bad actors are attempting to artificially raise prices on basic need products during a global health crisis and, in line with our long-standing policy, have recently blocked or removed hundreds of thousands of offers.

“We continue to actively monitor our store and remove offers that violate our policies.”

A spokeswoman for the CMA said: “It’s clear that whilst the majority of businesses are behaving responsibly in the Covid-19 outbreak, a small minority may have been taking advantage of the situation to exploit people.

“The CMA is acting against profiteering and other harmful practices through our Covid-19 task force.

“To date, we have written open letters to the food and drink and pharmaceutical sectors, engaged with trade associations and written to more than 150 individual businesses asking for more information or expressing concern about their behaviour.

“We welcome the work eBay and Amazon are doing to remove listings where very high prices are being charged for essential goods, but it is clear this is a serious problem that isn’t going away.

“We’re advising Government on further action that could be taken to tackle price gouging at all levels of the supply chain.”

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