Is COVID-19 price gouging still a problem?

A quick search of Amazon tells me yes

Grace Brombach

As the coronavirus outbreak loomed in early March, U.S. PIRG Education Fund advocates became concerned that we’d see widespread price spikes on critical health supplies, from surgical masks to hand sanitizers. So we did an analysis into price gouging on Amazon, and unfortunately, our suspicions and fears were confirmed. The price of over half of the products we looked at spiked by at least 50 percent compared to their average costs leading up to the pandemic.

In the weeks and months since we published our findings, one particular question keeps coming up: Is price gouging still a problem?

To answer that question, I did another quick scan of Amazon’s online marketplace. I used Keepa, an Amazon price tracking tool, which makes it possible to compare today’s prices with past averages. In just 10 minutes, here’s what I found:

  1. Toilet paper: I found a pack of 80 rolls for $139 and a 30-pack priced at $150, which is a 140 percent and 31 percent increase in cost respectively from their average list price. 

  1. Surgical Masks: I found a 50-pack of masks for $89, which is a 178 percent price increase from its average cost.

If I’d spent more time looking, it’s likely I would have found several more examples. It’s all too clear that price gouging is still a problem.

While we’ve seen progress, as prosecutors across the country hold these sellers accountable, the issue remains that these listings still exist on online marketplaces. If I can quickly find these examples, using my laptop and a free browser extension, industry giants such as Amazon have the expertise and resources to put technological roadblocks in place before these ridiculously-priced items reach consumers.


Grace Brombach

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