Avoiding price gouging during the Coronavirus

As the coronavirus continues to spread in the United States, more Americans are taking precautionary measures like using hand sanitizer, halting travel and avoiding handshakes. There is a lot to worry about with this outbreak, but absurd prices for sanitizers and other critical safety supplies shouldn’t be one of them. 

Our new research found severe price gouging on Amazon, and we have advice on how to ensure you purchase reasonably priced, effective supplies during the outbreak.

FINDINGS
  1. More than half the products we examined saw price spikes of at least 50% compared to the average price. At times, the cost of these products would spike 2.3 times higher than the average.
  2. Nearly one in six of the products sold directly by Amazon had price spikes 50% higher than the average. These increases were limited compared to third-party sellers, but still significant, with high prices for these products averaging 65 percent greater than the average.
  3. The average 30-day price for reviewed products since January 30th has increased by 18 percent over the 90-day average.
  4. Surgical masks saw more significant price increases. With the average high price 166% higher than the average price. The U.S. Surgeon General is urging Americans to stop purchasing surgical masks because they are ineffective at preventing the general public from catching the Coronavirus.
HOW TO AVOID PRICE GOUGING AND FAKE PRODUCTS
  1. Use a price tracking tool like CamelCamelCamel or Keepa to see if the price increased recently.
  2. Compare the price to similar products, especially looking at the cost per unit. Recently I saw a $459 bottle of hand sanitizer--and it was only 50 ml.
  3. Be cautious of buying opened products that are being resold in singles or some that appeared in the last few days. I saw two surgical masks sold individually at a 600% markup.
  4. Check ingredients closely: The CDC says the only kind of hand sanitizer known to kill the Coronavirus has at least 60% alcohol in it.
  5. If there is no “buy box” on Amazon, consider not buying it. In some cases, Amazon is removing the option to immediately purchase because they think it violates their fair pricing policy.
SOLUTIONS
  1. Report problems: Until platforms like Amazon prevent absurdly priced products from ever appearing on their website, you should report problematic items to the company and your local Attorney General.
  2. Send Jeff Bezos a message: Nearly 30,000 supporters have asked Amazon to ensure every item sold there is fairly priced during emergencies. Add your name.
  3. Enact stronger laws to prevent price gouging: Elected officials should investigate how these platforms enable price gouging and establish stronger laws to require companies to prevent price gouging before it ever happens.