Despite U.S. PIRG Education Fund calling out Amazon and other online retailers for allowing price gouging in their online websites 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. Its new analysis looked at 10 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 14 times more expensive than the identical products sold at other retailers. Some examples include:
- Disinfectant wipes: U.S. PIRG found 75-count Clorox Disinfecting Wipes listed on Amazon for $37.95, but at Target it was $4.49, and at Home Depot it was $5.14. The price of the Amazon option is more than eight times as high as Target’s and more than seven times as high as Home Depot’s.
- Paper towels: The consumer group found a pack of 6 Bounty Doubles Select-A-Size rolls on Amazon for $58.80. It 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: U.S. PIRG 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, consumer watchdog associate for U.S. PIRG Education Fund. "No one should have to pay exorbitant prices on essential products, during this pandemic or in future national and state emergencies.”
In February, U.S PIRG’s research compared prices of surgical masks and hand sanitizers on Amazon to their average prices in the 90 days leading up to the pandemic. It found price increases of at least 50 percent compared with the pre-pandemic average prices on more than half of the products.
After this research, U.S. PIRG partnered with 33 attorneys general to call on major online sellers 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 occur. People should compare the cost per unit for products at different stores and avoid buying opened products resold as single items, Brombach said.