Price gouging has affected items such as cleaning products, antibacterial handwash and sanitary products
Industry bodies are concerned the practice could increase as non-essential shops start to reopen
Retailers are being urged to stamp out price gouging during the coronavirus crisis, with industry bodies concerned the practice could increase as non-essential shops start to reopen this week.
A Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) roundtable with Which?, Money Saving Expert, Resolver, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) gathered to discuss key issues affecting consumers during the pandemic.
There was also the possibility that as the pandemic continues, new types of products could become the focus of “unscrupulous” price increases, the group said.
Price gouging in local shops and online during the lockdown has affected cleaning products, thermometers, antibacterial handwash and gel, baby formula and sanitary products, according to consumer association Which?.
One example cited was liquid antiseptic disinfectant, typically around £3, being sold for £29.99, an almost 1,000% price increase.
Sue Davies, head of consumer protection at Which?, said it was unacceptable for people to be left at the mercy of unscrupulous sellers price gouging during the crisis.
“Regulators must be empowered to take swift action to ensure this practice is stamped out,” she added. “It is imperative we learn from this experience and ensure people are protected and that the prices of essential items stay reasonable during crises, both now and in the future.”
CTSI CEO Leon Livermore said: “It is alarming that there are some businesses exploiting consumers at this vulnerable time. Business owners who inflate prices unjustifiably may well receive short-term profits, but in the longer term are severely damaging their reputations.
“UK consumers will remember the profiteers, and I have no doubt they will vote with their wallets once this crisis ends.”
In March, the CMA set up a Covid-19 taskforce to monitor and respond to competition and consumer problems arising from the pandemic. The watchdog has written to 264 traders that have collectively been the subject of more than 3,100 complaints about unjustifiable price rises.
The most complained-about product was meat, followed by hand sanitiser, toilet paper and rice. The largest price increases concern hand sanitisers, with a reported median rise of just less than 400%. The average increase across all reports is 160%.