Price-gouging on Amazon during the pandemic

Analysis of 750 products shows how prices on essentials fluctuated after COVID-19 pandemic started

* | Used by permission

The new year has just begun, and the COVID-19 pandemic still rages in the United States. Americans have witnessed shortages of a range of household and medical products — from toilet paper to hand sanitizers. And as cases surge by the tens of thousands in the United States every day, it remains as important as ever that Americans have access to the products they need to stay safe and as comfortable as possible.

Since the start of the pandemic, U.S. PIRG Education Fund has focused on the problem of price gouging, using price tracking tools, as well as direct visits to retailers’ web sites and brick and mortar stores. Our coverage has led to increased reporting by consumers to their state attorneys general, as well as new and strengthened price gouging laws in states such as California, Massachusetts and Colorado. In addition, Amazon has vowed that it is cooperating with law enforcement, and has zero tolerance for price gouging on its site.

As the country approaches the one-year mark since the start of the pandemic, we’ve revisited this issue to show how prices on essential supplies now compare with prices on the same listings exactly one year ago. By comparing pre-pandemic prices to today’s, we can provide insight into how Amazon has or has not addressed price spikes on its site.

This report is U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s most extensive look at price gouging to date and includes data from 15 product categories, with 50 listings per category, totaling 750 products. For each product, we looked at the price of the listing on Dec. 1, 2019, and the price again on Dec. 1, 2020. All data comes from the product listings that have been tracked on Amazon the longest, with the shortest time period being at least one year. That means that this report doesn’t address those opportunistic sellers who began listing items in response to the pandemic.

Key Findings:

  • Out of the listings collected, 409 saw price increases of more than 20 percent, and 136 at least doubled in price.
  • Across the 15 product categories, the highest price increases ranged from $13.10 to $4,000.
  • Of the 409 listings with price increases of more than 20 percent, approximately one in seven were sold directly by Amazon.
  • Patio heaters showed the 10 largest price increases by percentage.
  • In seven product categories, at least half of the listings increased by more than 20 percent over the year.
  • In six product categories, at least 20 percent of the listings doubled in price.