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PHILADELPHIA -- Despite U.S. PIRG Education Fund publicly shaming Amazon and other online retailers for allowing price gouging in their online marketplaces at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, a new analysis shows that the problem is still serious.
Six months later, U.S. PIRG Education Fund revisited whether Amazon had lived up to its promise of tackling price gouging. Our new analysis looked at 10 staple products found on many shopping lists during the COVID-19 pandemic, including hand sanitizers, disinfectant wipes and digital thermometers. Of these items, options from Amazon were two to fourteen times more expensive than the identical products sold at other retailers. Some examples include:
Disinfectant Wipes: We found the same 75-count Clorox Disinfecting Wipes listed on Amazon for $37.95, the second by Target for $4.49 and the third by Home Depot for $5.14. The price of the Amazon option is over eight times as high as Target’s and over seven times as high as Home Depot’s.
Paper Towels: We found a pack of 6 Bounty Doubles Select-A-Size rolls on Amazon for $58.80. We found the exact same Bounty product on Walmart’s website for $9.98 and on Kroger’s website for $11.99. Amazon’s price is almost six times as high as Walmart’s and almost five times as high as Kroger’s.
Antibacterial Hand Wipes: We found a 40-count Wet Ones Antibacterial Wipes canister for $27.60 on Amazon, compared with prices of $1.99 and $1.98 at Target and Walmart. The Amazon price is almost 14 times as expensive as Target and Walmart.
“Not only do we need Amazon and other major online marketplaces to police themselves, but also we’re calling on every state to pass anti-price gouging laws that will protect consumers.” said Grace Brombach, U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s Consumer Watchdog Associate. "No one should have to pay exorbitant prices on essential products, during this pandemic or in future national and state emergencies.”
In February, our research compared prices of surgical masks and hand sanitizers on Amazon to their average prices in the 90 days leading up to the pandemic. We found price increases of at least 50 percent compared with the pre-pandemic average prices on more than half of the products.
With this research in hand, we partnered with 33 attorneys general to call on major online marketplaces to address the price gouging on their websites. In April, U.S. PIRG Education Fund received a letter from Amazon that stressed its commitment to its Fair Pricing Policy. “There is no place for price gouging on Amazon,” the company wrote, “and we will not tolerate attempts to artificially raise prices on basic-need products during a global health crisis. It is unconscionable... We proactively monitor our stores for unfair prices, and we aggressively enforce this policy in order to protect our customers.”
U.S. PIRG Education Fund advises consumers to shop around, stay alert and report cases of price gouging when they do pop up. People should compare the cost per unit for products at different stores and avoid buying opened products resold as single items.
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