The fast-spreading coronavirus has pushed up prices on hand sanitizer and surgical face masks by at least 50% on Amazon. Consumers are paying the price.
According to a report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group released Wednesday, the sky-high prices weren’t isolated to third-party sellers. While Amazon has said it was cracking down on price gouging on its vast online shelves, the retail giant was marking up prices, too, the report found.
“In these times when people are so concerned about their health and the risk of catching this virus, I think the only way to protect their shoppers is for them to cap prices,” Adam Garber, a consumer watchdog for the group, told USA TODAY.
The consumer advocacy organization compared the average prices for hand sanitizers and surgical masks before and after the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency on Jan. 30. According to the report, the average high price of surgical masks was 166% higher than the 90-day average price.
Data from the Keepa price tracking service shows a box of 10 N95 respirators that sold for $18.20 in mid-January spiked to $199.99 in late February. In January, a case of a dozen 8-ounce bottles of Purell hand sanitizer was selling for about $30 and jumped to $159.99 on March 3, Keepa showed.
The report – which found nearly 1 in 6 of the products sold directly by Amazon had prices spike 50% higher than the 90-day average – comes after USA TODAY reported inflated prices on critical supplies on major online platforms, including eBay, that could violate price-gouging laws in some states.
Shoppers told USA TODAY that while scouring the internet and Main Street for these critical supplies, they were being slapped with astronomical price tags. Shipping costs also skyrocketed, with one shopper being quoted $500 for ground and $5,000 for next-day air. Many of the complaints involved products sold by third-party sellers of Amazon, Walmart and eBay.
Nearly three dozen states have anti-gouging laws, but they define gouging differently. Florida’s law bans the sale of an “essential commodity” at an “unconscionable price.”
In a statement to USA TODAY, Amazon said price gouging was “a clear violation of our policies, unethical, and in some areas, illegal. In addition to terminating these third party accounts, we welcome the opportunity to work directly with states attorneys general to prosecute bad actors.”