‘Price-gouging’ still going on despite online marketplace crackdown

Hundreds of listings for essential products of brands including Dettol and Carex are being sold at inflated prices sold via online marketplaces, with thousands of items have been sold at these rip-off rates, an investigation has revealed.
Some over-priced goods are being sold on online marketplaces.Some over-priced goods are being sold on online marketplaces.
Some over-priced goods are being sold on online marketplaces.

The first page of search results for some popular brands on online marketplaces such as Amazon Marketplace and eBay were rife with household essentials being sold for at least double the typical supermarket price, as some third-party sellers seek to profiteer amid the coronavirus crisis.

Selling sites such as Amazon and eBay have taken action against price-gouging by both Amazon and eBay through blocking and removing large quantities of listings or offers and suspending accounts, however consumer group Which?, which carried out the investigation, said that its findings suggest measures from marketplaces alone are not enough and that government intervention is needed.

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Which? found evidence on eBay that thousands of these essential products such as hand sanitiser, cleaning products, toilet roll and tissues are being purchased at these high prices by consumers. Unknown to the brands, the unscrupulous traders often exploit popular household names such as Andrex, Carex, Dettol and Kleenex in order to profit.

Based on the first page of search results for Carex on Amazon Marketplace, more than half of Carex products, including hand wash and hand sanitiser, were being sold for five times the typical supermarket price or more and one in 10 were on sale for 10 times the price. In fact, 98 per cent of those items on the first page of search results were on offer for double the typical price or more.

For Dettol products listed by Amazon sellers on the first page of search results, which included antibacterial soap, wipes and spray, around six in 10 listings were double the price or more.

On eBay, a 500ml bottle of Dettol surface cleanser, usually sold for £1.75 or less, was listed for more than £9 by one seller.Which? also saw issues on OnBuy, which claims to be one of the world’s fastest growing online marketplaces and was reported to Which? by people trying to find Dettol products.

One person who used Which?’s price gouging reporting tool said that they had found Dettol antibacterial washing machine cleaner on sale for £19.59 via OnBuy, instead of the typical £3.50. Another told Which? that they had been trying to buy Dettol anti-bacterial spray, and had found a bundle of three 750ml bottles on OnBuy for £45.94, rather than the usual £2.50 a bottle.

Sue Davies, head of consumer protection at Which?, said: “It cannot be right that potentially thousands of people have paid unjustifiably high prices to buy essential items during this Covid-19 crisis. While welcome, it’s clear that measures being put in place by online marketplaces are not enough to stop coronavirus profiteering by those seeking to exploit the current situation.

“The government, working with the CMA, needs to step in with emergency legislation to enable swift action to crack down on price-gouging and keep the price of essential items reasonable during crises both now and in the future.”

An Amazon spokesman said: “There is no place for price gouging on Amazon. When a bad actor attempts to artificially raise prices on basic need products during a global health crisis, it’s bad for customers and the hundreds of thousands of honest businesses selling in our store.”“In line with our long-standing policy, we have recently blocked or removed hundreds of thousands of offers and pursued legal action against bad actors.”

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Despite having effective safeguards in place for weeks, eBay went on to remove all of the hundreds of listings of essential items being sold at inflated prices that Which? shared.

An eBay spokesman said: “It is highly irresponsible of Which? to repeatedly mis-represent the reality of price gouging as part of its ongoing campaign against online marketplaces. eBay gives people a great way to access the items they need – especially during lockdown – and we invest heavily in measures to ensure they can do so safely.

“While a small minority of unscrupulous sellers do attempt to take advantage of other users, effective safeguards have been in place for weeks to prevent this.”

Cas Paton, chief executive of OnBuy.com said: “Price inflation is an issue we take very seriously, and we thank you for bringing these cases to our attention. Our automated measures to flag sellers we suspect of price inflation are based on market-adjusted data sets and customer reports. We manually investigate each incident.

Handsoap for £16

Which? found examples of products being sold for multiple times their normal value.

One eBay seller was charging £12.99 for a 400ml bottle of Dettol Anti-Bacterial Disinfectant Spray, despite the usual price of £1 in shops, the study found.

Two 250ml bottles of ‘fun edition’ Carex hand wash were on sale for £15.94 - seven times the price you could buy them for in supermarkets. A bundle of two 50ml Carex hand gels were £16, when these would normally cost around £3 for both.

An individual bar of Dettol soap, usually available in packs of four for around 30p per soap, was listed for £3.50 - more than ten times the price.

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One seller, who is based in the UK, was using the postage price to hide the markup on both Andrex and Kleenex products. They were charging £9.70 to ship three packs of Andrex washlets from Welwyn Garden City. Including postage and packaging, buyers would pay £14.69 buying through eBay, instead of the typical supermarket price of £4.50. Another listing from the same seller - a two pack of Kleenex tissues - had an item price of £3.99, but a postage cost of £8.50.

On Onbuy,a bundle of six 750ml Dettol Power and Pure kitchen sprays, usually £3 each, was being sold for more than £40 including postage. A pack of Dettol wipes was for sale for £15.81, more than three times the usual £5.

Kathryn Taylor, 59, from Edinburgh, has a chronic lung condition and has to stay at home due to serious issues with her immune system. She saw a seller on Amazon Marketplace selling 1 litre of Dettol spray for £29.99. She said: “It’s disgusting. I have had to use these products for years now for hygiene reasons for managing serious health conditions and the current shortages mean I have to try to look elsewhere if not available for my Tesco delivery, but I cannot afford to pay the prices.”

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