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PHILADELPHIA -- At the start of 2020, toilet paper stockpiling and a run on hand sanitizer would have never crossed our minds. Unfortunately, we’ve lived in a different reality since then. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Americans have witnessed shortages of -- and price gouging on -- a range of household and medical products from disinfectant wipes to face masks. And as COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths regularly reach record highs across the United States, even though most products are back in stock, we’re still seeing price hikes on essentials. Our latest analysis shows more than half of the oldest listings on Amazon saw increases of 20 percent or more in the last year.
“With more than 10,000 Americans dying from the coronavirus each week, it’s unconscionable that anyone would try to make excess profits while so many are suffering,” said Grace Brombach, U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s Consumer Watchdog Associate. “Now is the time to do everything we can to keep each other safe. There is no place for price gouging in a pandemic or any other state or national emergency.”
Amazon, the largest online marketplace, has vowed that it’s cooperating with law enforcement and has zero tolerance for price gouging on its site. At the start of 2021, U.S. PIRG Education Fund is assessing whether Amazon is living up to that promise by comparing prices for essentials on that website today with the same listings exactly one year ago.
This is U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s third analysis of pandemic prices on Amazon over the past year, and the most in-depth to date. Our report uses data from Keepa, a price tracking tool with detailed charts on more than 1 billion Amazon products. We analyzed 15 product categories, with 50 listings per category, totaling 750 products. The numbers speak for themselves.
Here are a few key overall findings:
For 409 listings, prices increased more than 20 percent year over year. In addition, 136 listings at least doubled in price.
Of these 409 listings with price increases of more than 20 percent, approximately one in seven was sold directly by Amazon, rather than a third party on the marketplace.
In seven product categories, at least half of the listings increased by more than 20 percent over the year.
In six product categories, at least 20 percent of the listings doubled in price.
One product costs a staggering $4,000 more now than it did last year.
“We understand that there are other market factors at play here, but if the local corner store can keep its prices accessible during this pandemic, Amazon must execute on its commitment to consumers and keep all essentials fairly priced,” said Brombach. “From disinfectant wipes to surgical gloves, individuals, businesses and health care professionals must have affordable access to the products they need to protect themselves and their communities.''
Since the start of the pandemic, U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s focus on price gouging not only has led to increased awareness and reporting by consumers to their attorneys general, but also has led to new and strengthened related laws in states including California, Massachusetts and Colorado.
Now, in addition to calling for price gouging legislation in every state, U.S. PIRG Education Fund is advocating for comprehensive federal price gouging legislation that goes beyond the presidential order that prevents hoarding. Strong federal legislation will bolster current state laws and help less powerful entities take on giants such as Amazon when necessary.
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