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Help us put an end to price gouging

Exploitative sellers are profiting from the coronavirus crisis by hiking the prices of essential items. Enough is enough – it has to be stopped.

While the majority of us in the UK have rallied and supported each other during the COVID-19 crisis with amazing acts of generosity and kindness, others have looked to exploit the uncertainty.

Since the beginning of this epidemic, we’ve been keeping a close eye out for examples of profiteering – commonly known as ‘price gouging’ – by sellers seeking to take advantage of people in need of essential items that are currently in high demand.

Read all the latest COVID-19 news and advice on our dedicated hub

You’ve sent us hundreds of cases covering everything from household essentials such as disinfectant sprays and hand sanitiser, to baby formula and paracetamol.

We even received reports of hair clippers and DIY equipment being sold at extortionate prices.

Unacceptable behaviour

Many of the examples you sent came from popular online marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon.

We’ve been calling on both of them to do more to tackle the issue since March but, worryingly, we’ve also come across plenty of bricks-and-mortar shops taking advantage of their customers too. 

Some of the most egregious examples include:

💷 One 500ml hand sanitiser gel for £56.98 on eBay

💷 One pack of 20 Dettol wipes for £16 from a seller on Amazon

💷 A 400ml bottle of disinfectant for £45.94 from OnBuy.com

💷 A local chemist selling a 100ml bottle of hand sanitiser gel for £25

We believe this is unacceptable behaviour by people seeking to take advantage of the incredibly difficult position many currently find themselves in – and it must be stopped.

Join our campaign against price gouging

Today we’re launching our new campaign calling on the government to introduce emergency legislation to stop price gouging of essential items during public crises now and in the future.

We want it to be illegal for individual sellers, both online and on the high street, to be able to profit on the products that people need most to stay safe and get through a crisis.

And we want online marketplaces to be held to account if they do not ensure compliance from people selling goods on their sites.

You’ve already helped us to put this on the government’s agenda, but now we need you to help us turn this into action.

Our simple tool can be used to submit any examples of price gouging that you find both online and in stores. We will share these directly with the Competition and Markets Authority to support their investigations, and show the Government why it’s so important to take swift action.

The more examples of unscrupulous sellers that we can gather, the louder our voice and the stronger our campaign will be.

Price gouging: how to spot it

So, make sure you spread the word. Share our tool with friends and family and keep reporting any coronavirus profiteering to us.

Got a story to share or come across an example of price gouging? Report it via our tool, then tell us in the comments.

Together, we can press home the need for swift action from the government to put an end to this unacceptable practice.

Comments

I am unsure at just how practical an official approach can be to this problem. How do you decide what an acceptable price is for particular product and the borderline price at which it becomes unacceptable? Many products may be higher priced simply because of higher costs in manufacture and sourcing. How do you calculate the effect of this?

We must also decide what are “essential”. Soap is not hard to get in my experience and is key to protection. Effective masks are in short supply and best given to key workers. We might have to improvise; polythene bags will protect hands.

So whilst it is a source of anger that some attempt to cash in on the crisis it seems to be mostly in marketplaces where dodgy vendors abound normally. In my experience our normal chemists, shops and supermarkets have behaved well.

I dislike the term “gouging”; I don’t know who invented it but I’ve not heard it before. However, over pricing goes on all the time. Just look at the range of prices for all sorts of products in the shops and online, from small packs of screws to domestic appliances, books, peak rail fares, holiday costs during school breaks…….. General we use our common sense and make a considered choice or don’t buy from such sources.
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Getting to the term ‘gouging’ is a bit of a story – Which? has used the term ‘profiteering’ in the past (notably in our earlier conversation on the subject. We’ve opted to go with ‘gouging’ as it matches more closely with how consumers are talking about the subject, not least in how people are reporting it in comments and through the tools we have up.

Good to see you back on here by the way!

🙂

The term seems to emanate from the US of A. I’d prefer to retain our British approach.

Amazon appear to be promoting action in the States to deal with the problem – https://www.theverge.com/2020/5/13/21257780/amazon-open-letter-congress-pass-law-price-gouging-masks-hand-sanitizer-covid-19 – unless, of course, it affects them:
“Unsurprisingly, Amazon’s proposed legislation would ensure that only the party that sets the price — like, say, a bad third-party Amazon retailer — be held liable for the inflated price, not the storefront (i.e. Amazon) that hosts that seller and facilitates the sale.“. How surprising. Have Amazon UK made similar representations to the UK government?

“Price ramping” is a phrase with a long history in stock and commodity trading but it is more about manipulation of markets through coordinated action by certain dealers.

Whereas “profiteering” is well-established and understood – and to many respectable – “gouging” has that extra element of wickedness attached to it because it is more repugnant at times when there is a desperate shortage of something essential.

The gougers first try to corner the market by buying up supplies thus restricting competition, then they manipulate the market to raise demand by claiming that everyone must have this product and that further supplies will not be available. It is then just a case of exploiting the heightened demand by fixing extortionate prices and making out that prices will never be lower again.

The phrase “price gouging” doesn’t seem to right to me because what it describes is actually “demand gouging” or “market gouging”. In the case of hand sanitiser and handwash products it was the manufacturers, through their advertising and promotion, who convinced everyone that there was no effective substitute. It had already been given premium pricing to suggest it was more valuable than soap or simpler products.

But “gouging”, however unpleasant a word, does seem to sum up the rapacious and ruthless behaviour of those behind it. Birds in the raptor category loftily survey the field, swoop on their prey, gouge it with their beaks, and tear it to bits with their claws or talons. They primarily feed on other living creatures and are anti-social by nature [to protect their territory from competition].

In benign hands, a gouging tool is capable of fine joinery or cabinet work creating profiles and mouldings to beautify the article.

The difference between price gouging and profiteering is explained on Wikipedia:

Price gouging occurs when a seller increases the prices of goods, services or commodities to a level much higher than is considered reasonable or fair. Usually, this event occurs after a demand or supply shock. Common examples include price increases of basic necessities after natural disasters. In precise, legal usage, it is the name of a crime that applies in some jurisdictions of the United States during civil emergencies. In less precise usage, it can refer either to prices obtained by practices inconsistent with a competitive free market or to windfall profits. Price gouging may be considered exploitative and unethical.

The term is similar to profiteering but can be distinguished by being short-term and localized and by being restricted to essentials such as food, clothing, shelter, medicine and equipment needed to preserve life and property. In jurisdictions where there is no such crime, the term may still be used to pressure firms to refrain from such behavior.

The wiki explanation I’ve seen appears to be focussed on the USA. If that is so I don’t see why we must import it. Pants, sidewalks, hoods and trunks have been successfully denied entry.

We seem to have taken to dashboard [or dash], though, Malcolm.

I don’t really care where words come from if they seem suitable. Many foreign words have enriched our language

I think if we were starting from scratch on automobile terminology we wouldn’t have hoods or bonnets nor trunks or boots. I prefer fenders to bumpers as more accurate but the term is virtually obsolete now anyway.

We gave America the entire English vocabulary; we have collected a smidgeon in return.

My (English) Autocar Handbook from around 1916 defines the dashboard as the partition between the engine and the driver, with the upper part being called the instrument board. However I believe the term goes back to horse drawn carriage days, and certainly to horse tram days where it protected the driver from dirt thrown up from the road. Bumper seems appropriate as their purpose seemed to be to protect bodywork from bumps, as a passive component, rather than to fend off potential damaging objects which suggest an active member. 🙁

Gouging seems quite unsuitable in this context as it normally refers to fairly coarsely removing material.

But just how do we stop the practice by referring it to government?

Yes, the dashboard was a wooden panel across the front of a horse-drawn wagon to protect the driver and any passenger from mud and stones being ‘dashed up’ by the horses’ hooves from unmade roads or trails. I thought it originated with the carts and wagons used by American pioneers striking out west across the plains to settle the empty spaces [not really so empty, of course, as there were large tribes of Native Americans already settled there, plus the odd million buffalo].

The word got a new lease of life in the musical <iOklahoma! with the song Surrey With the Fringe on Top, a surrey being a fancy and superior form of cart with better springing and smarter accoutrements including “a dash with genuine leather” [‘genuine’ pronounced the American way to rhyme with ‘wine’].

A dashboard was a feature of English horse drawn carriages – curricles are referred to having stiff curved leather “dashboards”. So maybe this predated the pioneers who took up the idea.

The Oklahoma song, perhaps, reinforces the origin (orange in the USA) of the dashboard:
“A surrey is a doorless, four-wheeled carriage popular in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. … Before the advent of automobiles, these were horse-drawn carriages. The name is short for “Surrey cart”, named after Surrey in England, where they were first made.”

I had been intending to buy a second freezer to put in the garage but early in March the possibility that coronavirus could affect our lives made having more storage space became a priority. I discovered that very few freezers were available online and that there would probably be a delay in supply. Eventually I found a suitable Which? Best Buy model, but it would not be delivered for several weeks and was much more expensive than the price indicated on the Which? website. I decided to go ahead, not knowing whether the manufacturer had raised the price or the retailer was profiteering.

A week or two later I received an email to say that I would have to wait an additional twelve days, with no discussion of whether the new date was suitable for delivery. I used this as an opportunity to find a supplier (Hughes) that now had the same model in stock, placed and order, cancelled the previous one and within a few days it was delivered for the price that was on the Which? website. That saved me £90.

I wonder if other people have found freezers being sold at inflated prices.

I have an upright fridge freezer with 3 drawers to store frozen food. I find I use the food from the fridge generally and restock that, with much frozen food being overlooked. At one time I had a second fridge freezer in the garage, acquired free and used nominally at Christmas. But residual food in that was again forgotten until too old to use.

So unless you buy in bulk – half a lamb say – and grow a lot in your garden that you wish to preserve, I’m not sure about the worth of too much freezer space. Well, not for me, anyway.

Your pricing experience seems to well illustrate the normal variation in prices and the value of the internet in sourcing best value. Retailers may get better terms from their suppliers on some makes than others but wish to offer a range of products. Retailers have different costs, turnover, and profitability. My experience of Hughes and AO has been good, but they are not always the cheapest. It pays to shop around.

I think we are entitled to expect the price of such appliances to be frozen.

I’ll borrow that joke when I recycle my anecdote, John.

Malcolm – I’m almost certain that the company with the expensive freezer was competitive in January. I don’t have evidence so I won’t mention their name.

I have been very satisfied with purchasing large appliances from both Hughes and AO, but I would recommend Hughes because they have showrooms with knowledgeable sales staff, give good guidance on the products they stock, and provide a very good after-sales service in the event of any queries or problems.

A friend of ours had a television that went haywire just out of warranty; She couldn’t fix it, and I am no use with such devices, so she called Hughes and they sent someone round the same day and he got it all going again free of charge.

I feel their customer service is better and more responsive than John Lewis’s for electrical goods and certainly more helpful than the major competitor with a physical presence, Currys PC World.

I’ve had one good experience with Hughes so far and have never used AO, slightly put off by their lack of any physical stores. AO did not have a suitable freezer in stock.

I wonder if anyone else has spotted inflated prices for larger items.

Nice though they are, helium-filled birthday balloons are sold at inflated prices. And tricky things to take for a drive.

They are all available online at uninflated prices, even from market place traders.

As is the Helium, in cylinders that resemble Propane tanks. Rather cheap, I have to admit, and we invested in two tanks around 25 years ago, and a batch of balloons. Still have gas and balloons left.

We bought a fridge freezer AEG – RCB53324VX stainless steel in December 2019 and paid £541.98 with free delivery.

It would now cost around another £200 so no price-freeze there.

I am really glad we have 2 fridge-freezers at the moment giving us 7 freezer drawers – 1 ice cream (get our priorities right), 1 bread, 1 meat, 1 veg, 1 burger-ish, 2 pre-cooked meals and sauces mostly basic turkey/lamb/beef mince and onions to turn into various culinary delights but also a few stews and curries.

As I am sharing my delivery slots with parents and getting deliveries every other week, veg doesn’t always last 2 weeks so I’ve been experimenting. Raw whole chillies freeze well. I have yet to taste the cooked jacket potatoes but they look edible. Grated carrot goes a bit soft but chunks are fine for adding to mince as well as parsnip. This week I have frozen a carton of raw mushrooms.

Ouch. That’s some price increase. It’s a good job you bought when you did. Of course we never know how much of prices increases are down to the manufacturer, distributor or retailer.

Having two freezers makes life easier because drawers don’t need to be crammed full and I have started freezing slices of bread. Home-made bread does not keep well. With infrequent supermarket collections I have been freezing milk and other things I don’t usually freeze. I have a collection of glass dishes that are good for storing portions of food for home-made ready meals. I used to have a large chest freezer, but that was in the days when I was a gardener.

I bought spelt flour some months ago and only last week decided to commit it to the breadmaker. It made a really excellent loaf – a good texture and flavour and it keeps well in the fridge.

In checking the recipe I read the bread makers instructions (good to do if all else fails). It said to put the yeast in first; I’d forgotten that and normally had dumped on top of the flour.

As for sliced bread, a sliced loaf can be frozen; the slices come apart very easily when frozen.

The yeast goes into my machine last malcolm, I just have to keep it away from the salt.

I accidentally ordered a 3 kilo bag of porridge oats. Trying to use it up, a spoonful goes into the bread machine.

My Panasonic instructions suggest putting the (dried) yeast in first to keep it initially separated from liquids. I never had a problem putting it in last.

I’m thinking of making sour dough. Apparently, apart from the flavour, it keeps extremely well. I’ve read that a good “starter” is made with a few organic green grapes (for the natural yeasts) added to the flour and water mix that soon becomes bubbly. Anyone made sour dough and the starter?

As Alfa says, salt must be kept away from yeast, and that’s because it is not a halophilic organism. My Panasonic machine has separate container for dried yeast and seeds etc. which are added after warming and mixing the other ingredients. Our zero waste shop (nothing in plastic) sells spelt flour for £4 a kg, dried yeast for £1.20 per 100g and you are served outside, with no customers allowed in the shop during the coronavirus emergency. It’s the only shop I’ve visited in the past two months.

I had one go at making a sourdough starter from some out-of-date rye flour a few years ago but it was a disaster and smelled rather off. If I now have flour to use up, a spoonful in the bread machine uses it up and the loaf doesn’t seem to suffer.

I haven’t tried it, but I read you can make yeast from dried apricots probably in the same ways as the grapes. An internet search for ‘yeast from apricots/grapes/fruit’ returns plenty of info and recipes.

The one thing about making a sourdough starter that gets me is the waste. Is this where all the flour has gone? 🤔 Just about every recipe tells you to discard half the mixture at least a couple of times. Why not make duplicate starters and use them up or give them away (that is if they turn out better than mine.)

In a world where we are careful about hygiene I would not want to have anything to do with sourdough bread, which relies on unknown microorganisms present on flour or fruit.

What recent events have taught me is to keep a spare unopened tin of dried yeast or some frozen fresh yeast.

I can find nothing in a quick search that suggests making sourdough bread is unsafe or has health risks. Perhaps a topic to (briefly) explore?

Like home brewing of beer without adequate disinfection of equipment, the results of baking sourdough bread may not be satisfactory, as Alfa discovered. The brewing industry has largely moved towards good hygiene standards, pitching the wort with yeast that has been checked for contamination by bacteria and wild yeasts.

In a quick search I turned up several worrying sites with regard to the safety of making sourdough bread, all commenting on the potential health risks.

Links would be useful.

Can anyone explain the popular appeal of sourdough bread? I understand it has certain craft credentials and it has taken the independent bakery trade by storm – in some shops, if it isn’t wrapped or sliced then it’s sourdough, but is it nice? It certainly isn’t cheap. Another foodie fad, I suppose.

Many seem to like the taste, and it keeps well. Supermarkets also sell it. I wonder how many home bakers make it and with what results. Is there evidence such efforts have proved dangerous to health?

I haven’t tried making beer but I did try to make wine once, a very long time ago.

Inside the demijohn I managed to grow this amazing alien world that was so fascinating to watch I just left it.

Sourdough is supposed to provide good stomach bacteria I believe but I actually find it rather acidic to eat.

Perhaps I’ll get some next time I go out so we can see what we think. The name puts me off.

All my life, if something doesn’t taste nice someone is quick to say “but it does you good”. Thanks, but I just want a nice life!

My favourite ‘alternative’ bread is spelt & rye, but it’s rarely seen these days – sourdough has taken over.

Em says:
17 May 2020

Part of the appeal is the idea of heritage associated with sourdough breads. Poilane in Paris have been using the same starter dough continuously since 1932.

I do like some commercial sourdough breads, but I think that has more to do with the bread itself; the quality of the flour, the other ingredients and the care and time taken in production.

Because a sourdough starter is not as vigorous as raw yeast, it requires an extended rising and proving time. Of itself, slow fermentation of bread dough results in a better product, in contrast to the supermarket “cotton wool” loaves produced using the Chorleywood process.

So in some people’s minds, sourdough is conflated with better textured and flavoured bread. But, I for one, dislike the truly sour “battery acid” taste that some of these products leave in the mouth.

I agree spelt bread (made from a Roman form of cultivated grain, similar to wheat) is great for making open sandwiches with smoked salmon, cured meats, strong cheese, etc., but is a bit dense to make a chip butty.

As far as yeast goes, price gouging seems to be over. There are still some expensive prices on the internet. Looking online, only Asda and Tesco seemed to have it in stock this morning.

It’s bound to rise again and again, though.

I am now getting bread & bakery bits emails from ebay that might interest me. I didn’t log in and only went there to look at high prices, but ebay tries its utmost to keep me informed.

Are crumpets in short supply? One item is Warburtons Crumpets (4×6… £19.40

I probably found the same product when I searched on ebay:
https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Warburtons-Crumpets-6×6-Crumpets-/273300666269
4 packets of crumpets for £19.40.

These are 90p a packet on Tesco. The seller extremely generously offers a 5% discount if you purchase 2 or more lots. Are people really paying these extortionate rates?

Looking through the sellers feedback is a real eye-opener on price gouging. I know Jelly and Angel Delight have been hard to get (for the parents not me😖) but 6 would cost £6 on Ocado and the seller is asking £19.40.

I wondered if people do pay extortionate prices or whether they are there just to make inflated prices look like a bargain.

Highland Maggie says:
18 May 2020

It is the same with Milton sterilising solution and tablets. Both inflated prices by sellers on Amazon.co.uk and eBay. I think it is a disgrace to try and profit from a necessity for little babies during this crisis. I have sent 4 different ones to image this morning to look into. They were charging nearly £20 for SMA Wysoy 800g which sells in chemists and supermarkets for around £11-14.50p

I agree with Alfa that the taste is (for me) unpleasant, and the starter kit laborious and time consuming. The point about sour dough is that it is available when yeast isn’t and you get bread at the end of it. Yeast, being what it is, I am very careful with it and wash hands after handling. I think it would be very unwise to attempt to make a substitute at home, though hopefully, any heat in the oven would kill it off before it kills you.

Em says:
17 May 2020

I wasn’t aware that yeast is a bio-hazard. Grapes are covered in it, which is why wine was discovered long before leaven bread became popular. And whilst I despise the taste of Marmite …

Baking yeast uses a strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae whereas the cocktail of yeasts and bacteria that grow in a homemade sourdough starter could include ones that are best avoided. I have read that commercial sourdough bread makes use of chosen yeasts and bacteria, which will help achieve a uniform product.

Em says:
17 May 2020

I’ve just been reading about S. cerevisiae on Wikipedia. The things we can learn here.
Apparently, it’s the official state microbe of the State of Oregon. It seems a few US states have adopted microbes, which is probably a smart move if you want to avoid being known as the Covid-19 state.

I can’t find one for Washington DC. Although not a state, I would like to suggest Clostridium botulinum. It’s symptoms include weakness, trouble seeing and trouble speaking. Remind you of anyone?

Is it the Vegetative State?

No, the District of Paranoia.

Em – Sometimes I don’t know if you are pulling our legs but it seems that S. cerevisiae is indeed the Oregon State Microbe: https://statesymbolsusa.org/symbol-official-item/oregon/uncategorized/brewers-yeast

Although this species of yeast is used for brewing and baking, different strains are used for each purpose. Baker’s yeast will produce cloudy beer and poor flavour. I don’t know what happens if you use brewer’s yeast for baking.

Perhaps you get a Guinness sandwich.

Em says:
18 May 2020

True, I have an odd sense of humour, but most of my posts are based on fact.

Perhaps some of you could focus your minds on the appropriate microbe for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland? Then we could start a petition. Or a new Which? Conversation?

France gets far too complicated. With all those cheeses, do they go for simple lactococci and lactobacilli, or penicillium roqueforti, penicillium camemberti … ?

The Competition and Markets Authority is seeking temporary powers to tackle price gouging: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-52703562?intlink_from_url=https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/coronavirus&link_location=live-reporting-story

It would be better, in my view, not to limit the duration of the legislation so that we don’t need to wait months before action in a future emergency.

Em says:
18 May 2020

Thanks @wavechange. Talk about horses and stable doors! Amazon have sanitizer back in stock at normal prices (albeit you have to buy a pack of 6), Waitrose have toilet rolls, flour and yeast back on the shelves.

Thanks CMA, for seeing us through this crisis by doing nothing. Another watchdog with no teeth and a slap on the wrist for any fly by night traders who are still in business that they can find.

As Which? reported that the majority of people found heavily inflating prices were offered by market place traders, I do not know what the CMA could realistically accomplish. They have so far been unable to control Amazon in selling fake and illegal products, including 2-pin plugs.

I have found most semi-essentials available at sensible prices from normal sources. Essentials like adequate foodstuffs, soap were there. Maybe I was just lucky. I wonder if some are drawing attention to profiteers when the product is still available elsewhere at fairly normal prices. Sanitiser? Many do not need that during lockdown when they can use soap and water; best left for the essential users, as are gloves and masks.

I like Andrei Camilleri’s Montelbano books and bought a pack of 18 for a little over 30 quid. Looking for one I hadn’t got revealed the standard single book price of £6.99 from a bookshop or up to £179.10 on eBay. I suppose this would be classified (by some) as profiteering. I wonder how many reported over-pricing incidents fall into this scenario and would have been resolved with common sense and a simple look round the market?

Em – I’m disappointed by the CMA over various issues, this being one. Being retired, I can stay at home and have had no need to buy hand sanitiser, masks and gloves, which have been difficult or impossible to find at sensible prices. It’s not so easy for those who are working away from home and need these supplies. It is interesting that in the US, Amazon is pushing for price gouging to be made illegal during emergencies: https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-amazon-pricegouging-congress/amazon-com-asks-for-federal-law-against-price-gouging-during-national-emergencies-idUKKBN22P2QW

But not Amazon themselves……. See https://conversation.which.co.uk/shopping/coronavirus-price-gouging-reporting-tool/#comment-1596540

Many have been self-isolating and working at home. Little need, if any, for masks, gloves and sanitiser. They are best left to those who must venture out. As they are (were) in short supply worldwide it is not surprising they are difficult to get hold of.

I wonder how many industries, institutions, educational establishments, dentists, garages……….. have there own stocks of gloves and masks that they might have made available to the NHS and care homes. A small company I know of has a large cupboard full of boxes of nitrile gloves, for example.

I would hope that Amazon would set a good example if trying to get help from Congress to deal with rapacious marketplace traders. I’m also concerned that online searches for hand sanitiser usually turn up antibacterial handwash, which is no substitute and must be washed off after use.

I am not aware that our government has appealed for stocks of gloves and masks to be made available to those who need them.

Amazon set a good example? ? Well, as long as it has no effect on them, seemingly. I wouldn’t hold my breath. 🙂

I don’t think we need to rely only on government. The shortages were well publicised so maybe these stock holders could have used their initiatives. I would not be surprised to learn that some – maybe many – did. We are on the whole a sensible and caring society that, as we have seen in other ways, can and do act without the necessity of the state intervening. Just as it should be. I do not want any more reliance on the state than is absolutely necessary.

Many individuals are being very helpful to each other. I have baking yeast thanks to a friend’s next-door neighbour. I’ve had plenty of offers of help with shopping if I need it. Apart from the Mutal Aid support groups there does not seem to be much coordination. A friend who volunteered had not had the opportunity to help those in need.

Although we are agreed that most people don’t need hand sanitiser etc. there is a shortage and price gouging has occurred. Hopefully CMA will act without further delay.

Amazon does respond to public perception. Bezos hasn’t got where he has by ignoring that. And Amazon has a long history of setting excellent examples: their customer service is one of the best around, their website superb and when I raised points about misrepresentation on the part of a market place trader they pulled the trader’s products from sale immediately. I doubt even John Lewis would have done it as fast.

Too easy to knock Amazon; they’re a big target so easy to hit. But they listen to customers.

And on the point about “only the party that sets the price — like, say, a bad third-party Amazon retailer — be held liable for the inflated price, not the storefront” I see an analogy between the way some expect the UK government to behave where tax payers’ money is concerned and how Amazon behaves where customers’ money is involved.

And in the US businesses have to be very cautious about major class action law suits.

Sara WIllis says:
18 May 2020

I do a weekly online grocery order for my elderly father at Sainsbury’s. When I book a slot, I always book a slot that costs between 50p and £1.50, but most times I am charged £7.00.
I have also, on 3 occasions in the last 3 weeks, ordered a large packet or jar of an item and have received the smaller option, despite being charged for the larger.
Both these issues are infuriating enough, but then it is impossible to get through to customer services by phone or social media.

Em says:
18 May 2020

Keep all your bills and go to customer services in store when you can. Ideally, email the company whenever this happens, but keep a record of each discrepancy. Photograph any items supplied in error, showing the product label and weight.

Annoying as it is, these are relatively small amounts of money and it will save everyone time and trouble if they can all be dealt with at once. You legally have up to six years to bring a claim, so there is no rush to sort this out.

Em says:
18 May 2020

I had a thought regarding the £7.00 delivery charge after posting the above … .

Are you sure that your orders are meeting the £40 minimum spend threshold, to qualify for the lower delivery changes? It is possible that due to substitutions and missing items the value of your order is falling below the minimum.

I always like to make sure there is at least a £5 buffer in my order to stop this happening. I’d rather end up with £45 worth of groceries and cheap delivery, than £38 worth of groceries and a £7 home delivery charge.

That seems possible, Em, but I thought that the supermarkets were waiving the charge if orders fell below the spend threshold as a result of missing items etc. Maybe it depends on the company.

I have had no problems so far with Amazon and have only purchased goods that I have considered a fair and reasonable price.

Fortuitously in September last year I decided it would make sense to buy a pack of 12 face masks for protection against flu as my system usually overreacts to the annual vaccination. They have proven invaluable during the past weeks, enabling me to visit the local GP Practice for essential treatment and at the same time providing protection for members of staff there, who were also wearing masks as well as other PPE equipment.

I don’t understand why the people in this country would rather risk contracting a potentially fatal disease than be seen wearing a face mask in public. It has taken almost two months for the ‘advisory committee’ during their daily bulletins to acknowledge that masks will not only provide some self-protection but perhaps, more importantly, prevent you from spreading the disease to others, only at this very late stage curiously, they are now referred to as ‘face coverings.’

To mask or face-cover, whichever you prefer, should be an individual and not a collective choice, and people should be guided by their own conscience and instincts and not wait to be told by a few procrastinating officials, who seem to show more interest in statistics than in the lives of the people they serve, when the time is right for them to take all sensible precautions necessary to stay safe and protected against a potentially invisible killer disease in their midst.

Em says:
19 May 2020

The government were, and still are, in an awkward position. Apart from increased NHS demands on an already-failing supply chain, most PPE available for purchase by the public is there, only because it is a legal requirement for certain employers to provide it to their employees working in hazardous environments.

The obvious example is the building trade – MDF, plasterboard, cement and brick dust, fibreglass, paint, solvents, etc., etc., are all more or less hazardous when inhaled. Some types of wood dust like yew and oak are actually poisonous or cancerous. Which is why every Screwfix up and down the country, until March 2020, had face masks available by the dozen. You can’t even buy one now.

If the government had recommended face masks as a precaution for the general public, then supplies would have dried up even quicker, leaving employers in breach of their legal duties to provide a safe working environment and having HSE breathing down their necks.

Furlough has taken the pressure off for a few weeks, but it is unclear how the building trade can now resume without the necessary PPE equipment being available. Or how HSE can safely breath down their necks … .

I used a facemark when I was sanding paintwork a month ago. I hoped that no-one would think I had the virus.

I believe that the intention is that we should cover or faces if social distancing is not possible.

There is no shortage of face masks and a few enterprising people are posting simple instructions online, (including Which?) on how to make your own that can be washed and re-used. Industrial type masks are different from surgical type masks inasmuch as they are re-usable and more expensive as Ems points out, and specifically designed to trap dust and toxic chemicals.

Prevention is key until a vaccine is made a available. Some Far Eastern countries have now installed mask vending machines in public places which produce a single mask in a hygienic sealed case for instant use.

Alas, I predict we will have to wait a long time and witness more deaths before we see these appearing in the UK.

My local Screwfix shows next day click and collect availability of a number of types of tradesmens’ face masks at sensible prices. I haven’t tested availability because I have a small stock of masks in the workshop for when I’m cutting and sanding oak and mdf. Whether they have any COVID-19 protection is open to question but they would show willing.

Malcolm, the main difference between using industrial masks is they are more expensive and made to wear more than once, whereas surgical types are made for about 12 hr max usage and immediately and safely disposed of due to probable contamination from COVID -19 or some other invisible nasty. I paid about £12 for a pack of 12 from Amazon and have to date used 5. I am hoping the remaining 7 will last until I emerge from my self-imposed penitentiary 🙂

Em says:
19 May 2020

Click through and search by postcode. None of the stores in my area have any stock, and haven’t done since 3 March. I think I bought the last P2 mask the store had, for a project I was working on.

From the Screwfix website: “We are sorry we haven’t got our usual stock available. Please note Screwfix is ringfencing PPE to donate to the NHS for distribution in hospitals, hospices and care homes. We have currently withdrawn from sale selected PPE products until further notice to ensure it is distributed to where it is most in need. Thank you for your patience.”

No P2 masks are available in this area either.

Perhaps someone who has had direct experience of buying tradesmen’s masks could give their experiences?

For anyone who thinks that inflated prices are restricted to online sales: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/may/18/marks-spencer-in-row-over-hand-sanitiser-coronavirus

Maybe someone could list equivalent sanitisers – is the 64% alcohol a key component – with their prices. It seems listed at £10 currently. I see a Reliance Medical product at £7.20, Holland and Barrett product at £4/100ml (= £20 for 500 of course), Covex at £11.95, £17.99 Amazon………..

Em says:
19 May 2020

Branded alcohol-based sanitizers should cost around £12-£20 per litre. Obviously, small 50 ml packs are at the high end of that price range. A litre of 90% isopropyl alcohol, the main ingredient, costs about £9 per litre if you know where to look for it.

The WHO recommends 80% v/v ethanol or 75% isopropanol: https://www.who.int/gpsc/5may/Guide_to_Local_Production.pdf?ua=1

For general disinfection, microbiology labs used 70% ethanol for disinfection of surfaces, or did when I was working in microbiology. Water is an important component in making ethanol or isopropanol effective disinfectants and avoids a fire hazard.

Em says:
19 May 2020

The Guardian article quotes Boots as selling a similar quantity of hand sanitizer to M&S for only £4.15. It’s not alcohol-based (active ingredient is Benzalkonium Chloride – same as Dettox surface cleaner) and anyway, it’s out of stock. I thought only the Daily Mail engaged in sensationalist reporting.

Thanks Em. Reporting of science in the Guardian can be good by newspaper standards but this article will probably have been written by someone who knows nothing about science.

Benzylalkonium chloride is a quaternary ammonium compound used as a biocide in a variety of antibacterial products. I don’t know if QACs are effective against coronavirus. I remember that the FDA was trying to phase out benzylalkonium chloride because of possible health risks. Triclosan, another biocide, has been phased out various products including toothpaste in the US and UK for health reasons and because it is harmful to the environment.

DerekP says:
19 May 2020

Earlier this week one of my local shops was selling 300ml bottles of hand sanitiser for £2.99. I think that they were limiting sales to 1 per customer.

That’s not bad, but it surprises me that something made from simple, cheap chemicals is so expensive.

I aso though £2.99 was a bit expensive. I guess that a bottle of that size would not have retailed for more about £2 in the Before.

That’s around six months BC…Before Covid…

Posted in error…

Em says:
20 May 2020

I see Amazon Warehouse are offering a “used” 3M Aura Disposable Respirator, FFP2, Valved respirator, for just £31.63.

Seems an awful lot to charge for the chance to catch someone else’s Covid-19 virus.

Maybe it’s the ideal gift for a research virologist.

I’ve noticed that Amazon often has used goods available at a higher price than new ones but never understood the reason.

“New and used from £##” was the header on offers of liquid products on Amazon.

I found the ‘used’ respirator that Em mentioned. There is a note to say that it has been repackaged and giving an expiry date of 2024. I suppose it could have been packed in a retailer’s packaging or there is some other sensible explanation. It’s not a brilliant way to advertise goods.

Amazon Warehouse sells, in my experience, products that have been returned, have damaged or no packaging, missing components – maybe instructions or a lead for example. Defects and deficiencies are usually listed. I, and my family, have had some real bargains. A good place to start your online shop.

Em says:
20 May 2020

Indeed, that is what they are supposed to sell. Basically, opened and returned or damaged in transit. I bought a few reams of damaged laser paper, just the outer carton was ripped and taped up.

However, other Warehouse items have been less than satisfactory. The wireless doorbell had clearly sat in someone’s house; it was dusty and scratched, yet described “like new”. And I wouldn’t touch electrical or electronic items was a barge pole. You basically forgo any manufacturer’s warranty and it’s just not worth the risk for the relatively small savings I have seen.

And I’m just not moved to buy “used” toilet paper.

I second that motion.

“Do products sold on Amazon Warehouse come with a manufacturer’s warranty?
No. Used products generally do not come with a manufacturer’s warranty but all of our items are backed by Amazon’s standard 30-day return policy, and a 90-day return policy for Renewed items.”

The Consumer Rights Act applies to secondhand goods and if goods are claimed to be new but have damaged packaging, perhaps any fault can be regarded as present at the time of purchase, allowing a claim for repair/replacement/refund for six months after purchase. https://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/advice/your-rights-when-buying-second-hand-goods

I would not even risk buying paper. With my luck I’d probably receive Möbius paper, which would confuse a duplexing printer.

I remember making Möbius strips as a kid. My best pal’s brother was five years older and was headed for a Nobel in Maths. Saw it as his role in life to educate the two of us.

Those who hold Amazon in high regard will, presumably, expect any claims that would normally be dealt with under warranty to be sympathetically dealt with when the only fault might, for example, be cosmetically damaged packaging. Many items seem to be unused and in this category.

I note that Electrical Safety First are complaining about unsafe products being sold through online market places, a major provider being Amazon. I hope Which? are collaborating with them, and other complaining organisations, to crack down on this scourge and make the market place hosts responsible for what they help promote and profit from. The EU were supposedly looking at action but we, in the UK, could presumably now set down our own legal remedy?

I suggest that it would be better if we work with European countries and others that are determined to tackle the problem of dangerous and counterfeit products sold via online marketplaces and elsewhere.

It’s easy to find possible uses of Möbius strips with a web search but I have never seen one in use.

It would be better but only if there were signs of progress. If it simply gets bogged down then we should attempt to resolve it ourselves.

These products have the potential to, can and do, cause real harm. We’ve debated 2 pin plugs for years – illegal – and electrically defective products, fake smoke and CO alarms, harmful toys…….. just how long should we continue debating and allowing consumers to be placed in danger?

I hope that having identified that online marketplaces are major suppliers of dangerous and counterfeit goods, Which? will push for action. We do not know if anything is happening.

A major problem is that buyers don’t seem to understand the risk. Dangerous products often work fine (e.g. phone chargers) or appear to (it’s not easy to check if a carbon monoxide alarm is sufficiently sensitive) until there is an accident.

Perhaps the sale of mains-powered electrical goods and certain other products like CO alarms should be restricted to retailers that have systems in place to avoid selling dangerous and counterfeit goods. In the case of medicines there is a product licensing system and both practitioners and the public are able to report any concerns.

This is why we need a “delete post” button…

This is why we need a “delete post” button…

This is why we need a “delete post” button…

Some of my Harwell colleagues used to refer to that as “marketing and sales”. One sales director I knew used to call it “normal business practice”.

This is why we need a “delete post” button…