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Hats off to consumer watchdog Which? whose continued investigations have uncovered hundreds of listings for essential products at inflated prices sold via online marketplaces, and has found evidence that thousands of items have been sold at these rip-off rates. 

The first page of search results for some popular brands on online marketplaces such as Amazon Marketplace and eBay were rife with household essentials being sold for at least double the typical supermarket price, as some third-party sellers seek to profiteer amid the coronavirus crisis. The consumer champion has also uncovered evidence on eBay that thousands of these essential products such as hand sanitiser, cleaning products, toilet roll and tissues are being purchased at these high prices by consumers. Unknown to the brands, the unscrupulous traders often exploit popular household names such as Andrex, Carex, Dettol and Kleenex in order to profit.

Which? says it recognises that action is being taken against price-gouging by both Amazon and eBay through blocking and removing large quantities of listings or offers and suspending accounts, but its investigations continue to find large numbers of essential products being listed for sale at inflated prices, suggesting measures from marketplaces alone are not enough and government intervention is needed.

Which?’s new price-gouging reporting tool has also received hundreds of reports of inflated prices so far, six in 10 (58%) of which were about products sold on online marketplaces. Given that Amazon and eBay are by far the most popular online marketplaces in the UK, it’s no surprise that a large proportion of reports are about them. Consumers are also encouraged to report any issues they see to Amazon and eBay directly.

The watchdog is calling for emergency legislation to give regulators the tools to swiftly crack down on price-gouging on certain essential products during this crisis, and any future ones. Sue Davies, Head of Consumer Protection at Which?, said: “It cannot be right that potentially thousands of people have paid unjustifiably high prices to buy essential items during this Covid-19 crisis. 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.”

I could not agree more with Sue. Hard hit consumers will remember exactly how they were treated during the Covid-19 crisis and retailers will reap the benefits – or otherwise – in the months and years to come.  We will be looking at the challenges and issues thrown up by this at our upcoming flasgship 2020 Customer Engagement Summit in December. Look forward to seeing you there.

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