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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 agree with naming and shaming anyone who tries to profit from this virus. There have been so many people who are giving freely of their time to help those in need. Unfortunately, there are always those who have no moral conscience.

Price gouging is still happening on Amazon Marketplace. Here is a screen capture taken this morning:

Before Covid, the price in supermarkets was usually £1 a tin and now it is usually shown as £1.10 if there is any in stock. We have a shop in town that sells baking yeast for £1.20 for 100g and it is in stock.

I wonder if small marketplace traders pop along to the supermarket, buy what they are allowed to and sell it online.

I haven’t checked availability but there are plenty of offers of this product on eBay, and supermarkets including Ocado at normal, or near normal, prices. I’d suggest the Amazon example is opportunism rather than price gouging ( ugh, what a horrible term). There is a substantial difference between cornering a market and charging extortionate prices and simply trying to profiteer in a market where normal supply and pricing exists.

We’ve given examples before of where market place traders offer silly prices when the same goods are available at normal prices. I don’t describe that as price gouging. Just don’t buy from them.

Ocado let me register in early March but they have never let me place an order. Others have said that they have secured weekly deliveries. 🙁

Some people have been. forced to pay extortionate prices because they have not been able to find what they want at reasonable prices. This is clear from some of the posts on Convo.

CMA and the government should be tackling the problem.

I agree with Malcolm here. If I find a silly price, I simply won’t pay it.

If we all did that, then price gouging could not exist.

I won’t pay these prices either and when I was running out of yeast I stopped making bread. I never found any yeast online when I checked in March. I stopped looking when a friend managed to obtain some from a neighbour. It’s no good suggesting we shop around if there are no sensibly priced alternatives.

Some people have had to pay high prices for masks to be able to protect themselves at work, for example those who are self-employed or expected to provide their own PPE. Someone suggested that masks were available at Screwfix. Yes they were listed but there were no stocks and the company had said that they had donated their stocks to the NHS.

When people panic and clear the shelves of such things as toilet tolls and yeast we can hardly blame the shops for running out, and it takes time to restore stocks. We can, in one way, hardly blame the hoarders, they are just thinking of self preservation. Maybe we regard it a selfish, but human nature (I still wonder where all the loo rolls went).

The same applies to PPE; a sudden buying frenzy cannot quickly be countered, and essential items were needed for the NHS. The right thing to do.

I’d suggest bread yeast is not an essential commodity – extremely useful, particularly now, but we can manage without it. I looked online and found many normal sources listing it at normal prices; what I have not done is tried to buy any as I have a couple of sachets left. It would be useful, perhaps, if Which? surveyed the available outlets for essential and some other commodities so we can see what availability is really like.

I gave the example of yeast because it was the only example that I had followed. Some of the supermarkets have been restricting the number of popular items that people can buy, which is fine for single people but not necessarily for large families.

Companies that provide marketplaces could simply refuse to list products that are generally seen as essential if they are five or ten times common prices. As we know, some marketplaces host goods that are dangerous, so maybe there is not much hope. Should we let them continue on the basis that other companies sell products that comply with current standards? Why fuss about Currys upselling laptops when many companies don’t do this?

Well before Christmas I bought lots toilet rolls when they were cheap and I hope that stocks and sensible prices will have returned when I need some more.

Many of us can cope with these silly games but perhaps we should spare a thought for others.

The implication we are not sparing a thought for others is misplaced. There has been no suggestion of that as far as I can see, certainly not on my part.

We have debated Amazon’s deficiencies for a long time but with no clear action from Which? – at least, not that I’m aware of. Just drawing attention to misdemeanours only part of the battle; looking at how we might put a stop to bad practice and working with all those concerned to formulate some approach seems to be lacking. I have asked Which? in Convos more than once to tell us just what they are doing about market places and dangerous products, who they have talked to, what they understand the UK government is doing, what the (proposed) EU legislation is setting out to achieve. I’ve had no response.

I am sure that those of us who have been involved in the discussions will be agree that effective action is needed and many others may assume that Amazon marketplace traders all sell safe goods. Yes we want Which? to take action but it’s really the responsibility of our government and its predecessors. As we know, Trading Standards has been run down over the years. Thankfully they are still able to take action to help stop dangerous and counterfeit goods coming into the country but as Which? has demonstrated in several of its investigation, there is plenty more to be done.

It appears that we need legislation to make those who host market places take responsibility for the products they help promote, help distribute and profit from. It is completely irresponsible of Amazon to allow this situation to continue without taking proper action themselves. I understand the EU are examining how this might be done. I’d like to be informed about this. I presume Which? know and would like them to keep us up to date.

Which? cannot single-handedly deal with this but it can come up with suggestions, discuss with those other organisations and government departments ways forward and work as part of a team to try to make progress. I’d just like them to tell us how they are progressing with this. Just saying “something must be done” is not enough; we can all do that. I expect they are doing more than that. Which? have the facilities, contacts and people to do much more on our behalf. I’m sure they are, but why not tell us?

I’m fed-up with the same. I’ve lost count of the number of times that my comments have been passed on from a Convo post or I have had no more than an automated response when I have contacted Which? by email. I sent an email just this morning.

This Convo is about price gouging or extreme profiteering if you prefer.

Jayne says:
11 June 2020

Appalling that people want to trade off the world suffering .life is hard enough trying to feed my kids &just pay rent gas electric .on a normal day . This is far from normal . #be kind

Marion grimm says:
11 June 2020

It is shameful that people wish to profit from the misery of others. Stop these profiteers from such Greed and immoral behaviour.

I would be very interested to find out if the Govts directing orders to Dysons instead of taking up the offers from smaller UK businesses for respirators etc is connected with this cost hyping?

Mr B C Thomas says:
11 June 2020

I agree!

Dave Matthews says:
11 June 2020

What is a fair price so people would know if they are getting ripped off.

I think for many of us, a fair price is one that represents good value, relative to alternative options.

For example, I don’t need to pay a silly price for yeast as I live next door to a shop that sells fresh bread.

Similarly, I won’t pay an excessive price for face masks because I could easily make my own.

Just to add that in respect of face masks; as the need to buy & obtain them becomes a necessity for some of us, especially those who have been shielding, it is now increasingly more obvious many of those ‘would-be’ suppliers have no known knowledge when supplies will be available for actual sale & purchase. Their adverts are a subtle way just to obtain details of our email addresses!

Brian says:
11 June 2020

A fair price for the masks depends firstly on what your buying and why? In a clinical setting (with Covid infected patients, or looking after a relative at home) you need an FFP3 mask which cost from £3 to £5 each, depending upon the brand. The majority of us would only need a FFP2 in closer situations such as the workplace or a school and these cost around £2 to £3 each. For shopping etc, an FFP1 will be fine as your not in close contact with others and cost around £2 to £3 each. NOTE: A valved mask will be more comfortable to wear; Bulk buying of masks in the 10s or more will be cheaper and you can use them for DIY when this is all over; DONT BUY OFF AMAZON or E-bay etc, go to a reputable supplier such as Screwfix, Toolstation or Arco; Branded makes like 3M are ore expensive than shop own brands like Arco, but theirs not much difference in quality (if any); learn to put on, wear and remove a mask properly or don’t bother wasting your money (instructions are on the Web).

Anyone who does any decorating or other dusty DIY jobs may find they have a small stock of suitable masks. I found I had a couple of FFP2 and several FFP1.

Pauline Eastwood says:
11 June 2020

Just paid £35 for 50 surgical grade 3 layer disposal face masks. Is this avrip off?

It’s been known for centuries that when major crises strike well-organised,
civilised nations individuals with no scruple whatever will exploit the reasonable
anxieties of ordinary citizens and try to profit from those mass fears. Very often
they succeed when desperation drives normally rational people to acquire the vital
safety equipment they need at whatever cost. Lets not mince words. The people
who exploit the natural anxieties of civilised populations should be treated as
the dangerous criminals that they are and law enforcement agencies have a duty
to track them down and bring them before the lawcourts. We need to see action
by UK authorities on a scale that leaves these criminals in no doubt about the sort of punishment that awaits them when they are apprehended.

Michael says:
12 June 2020

Surely the Government knows that it’s already late in putting this right.

Sorry Michael the government doesn’t know it’s late, that’s the way Government has been throughout 2020.
Too little too late! Too vague with their instructions, lack of clarity & direction.
Now they are doing the opposite, Too much Too soon, & the magic R number seems to be rising – or is it the new K number they have found, from somewhere

jgjones says:
12 June 2020

Most masks on sale do not match the correct standards but sold at exorbitant prices. The Which Magazine should ask the government what happened to the masks that came from Turkey late but the NHS could not use them for some reason. These could be distributed free to the general public if safe to use.

Lesley Swan says:
12 June 2020

Maybe not to the general public but certainly to the vulnerable people, some of whom are now quite frightened to go outdoors at all, even if Boris says it’s safe.

They didn’t meet the required standard

I have been in social isolation since 12 March. Boris is a proven liar. You know when he is not actually lying, his lips don’t move.

Why don’t the goverment buy face masks, as they will or could buy at cheaper prices then have a site where we could purchase from ! This way we would be buying legal masks & not higher rates.

Make your own, take responsibility for yourself. Waiting for Boris & Co to extractum digitum will take for ever

Edmond Key says:
13 June 2020

IT WAS ALWAYS GOING TO HAPPEN( BLACK MARKET )

I heartily applaud Which? for raising this issue. I would like to be able to buy face masks from UK manufacturers at a fair price and to an approved quality. I will be trying to avoid buying anything from any seller in the future that has tried to cheat people during these difficult times.

Mac says:
14 June 2020

The time has come to take action, enough is enough. Charities don’t talk about it and I really applaud Which? for raising the issue to government attention.

Peter says:
15 June 2020

Why is it that we are lagging behind other countries when it comes to taking action to help or protect our people?

Perhaps this-https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8416075/Boris-Johnson-scrapped-Cabinet-Ministers-pandemic-team-six-months-coronavirus-hit-Britain.html has something to do with it?

I like that. It shows BJ in an unbuttoned white coat. Perhaps a straightjacket might have been a better choice if he is not going to listen to the scientists.

It would depend upon which scientists you listened to.

Good science allows others to inspect the data, evaluate it in the context of existing knowledge and possibly come to different conclusions. Sometimes it can be one step forward and two steps forward but overall we make progress.

If only we had enough information for their to be a consensus. WHO have changed their advice on masks. Those modelling the spread of the epidemic came up with competing proposals.

One of the reasons for the earlier recommendation was to preserve PPE for key workers, which has worked at least to some extent.

Those greed merchants who stock piled and sold at a profit seem to have escaped unchallenged. I haven’t read of a single case where a product sale has been followed up by an investigation of the seller. Those who stockpiled and couldn’t sell have effectively fined themselves but if these were perishable goods it is doubly criminal to waste them. This trade is an unpleasant result of any disaster that restricts our ability to purchase the things we need. People will carry on exploiting without a social conscience until enough are discouraged. We are usually too busy dealing with the problems within a crisis to care that much about the spivs on the side. They know that and, sadly, they have no better nature to appeal to.

I have reported unfair pricing to Amazon but they have not changed it.
Today their own price is £9 for 820ml fairy