Amazon and eBay failing to stop Covid-19 profiteers, says Which?

The online shopping platforms eBay and Amazon Marketplace are failing to crackdown on a surge in profiteering by sellers due to the coronavirus, a consumer group has warned, after its investigation uncovered a wide range of products on sale at “extortionate” prices.

Which? found “consistent overpricing” of household items, including cleaning products, hand sanitiser, thermometers, baby formula and tampons, which have all been in high demand since the coronavirus outbreak but in short supply in supermarkets and pharmacies.

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The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has set up a coronavirus taskforce to crackdown on companies that cash in during the outbreak and has already contacted traders and online trading platforms about excessive pricing of some products.

But the snapshot investigation by Which? suggests third-party sellers are still “brazenly” ripping-off consumers and using the current situation to list overpriced items that are difficult or impossible to find in local shops.

It found active listings and auctions for dramatically overpriced items, including a thermometer that would usually retail for £40 priced at £300 on eBay and £150 on Amazon. A £3 bottle of disinfectant was on sale for £29.99 on eBay.

On eBay’s auction site, a flurry of bids sent the price for a bundle of three bottles of Dettol spray and three packets of antibacterial wipes soaring to £210. A 50ml bottle of Carex antibacterial hand gel was being sold for more than £100 by multiple sellers on eBay, despite usually costing about £1.50.

Last week the Guardian found one UK-based eBay user selling a 72-pack of Andrex toilet roll for £84.99 – triple its retail price.

Sue Davies, the head of consumer protection at Which?, said: “Online marketplaces have taken some action against coronavirus price gouging, but our investigation shows unscrupulous sellers are still cashing in on people’s fears by selling essential items at extortionate prices on eBay and Amazon.

“These companies must make good on their pledges to stamp out coronavirus profiteering, and the CMA must be ready to take strong enforcement action.”

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An eBay spokesperson said: “All the items flagged by Which? have been removed and enforcement action has been taken against the sellers. We announced on Friday additional measures to tackle coronavirus-related price gouging. This is a continuation of aggressive action … which has included suspending hundreds of accounts, removing hundreds of thousands of listings, and suspending scores of bad seller accounts.”

Amazon said: “We are disappointed that bad actors are attempting to artificially raise prices on basic-need products during a global health crisis and, in line with our long-standing policy, have recently blocked or removed tens of thousands of offers. In addition to removing these offers, we are terminating accounts.”

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