Pandemic price hike still rampant on Amazon, study finds

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Hundreds of essential products that have come to define themselves pandemic Living have seen significant price increases on Amazon this year, with some jumping to many multiples of their original price, research shows.

An analysis published by the US Public Interest Research Group, a non-partisan consumer advocacy organization, examined 750 “essential” items sold in the Amazon Marketplace, comparing their pre-pandemic prices to what customers paid for them. at the end of 2020.

Items monitored ranged from essentials like face masks and toilet paper to ones that suddenly became popular in lockdowns like computer screens.

The PIRG found that of the 750 items, the prices of 409 had increased by more than 20 percent, while 136 had more than doubled. Patio heaters, suddenly a must-have during winter shutdowns, saw the largest percentage increase, with a model dropping from $ 150 to $ 699 – a jump of 366%.

“What we found,” said report author Grace Brombach, “ Amazon is taking action to crack down on price gouging on their site, that’s still a problem. “

Laws regarding the so-called price scam vary from state to state. In California, for example, it is defined as price increases of more than 10 percent on essential items during times of emergency. The state considers that “all sellers, including manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors and retailers” are responsible for this practice.

On Amazon, sellers are allowed to set their own prices, although the site gives additional importance to those with the lowest rates and fastest delivery estimates.

However, when US lockdowns were introduced in March, the company came under fire for its inability to control the price spike. Critics and consumers alike noted at the time that products such as hand sanitizers and masks were branded over 2,000 percent.

In May, noting what it called a “nationwide surge in price abuse complaints,” Amazon called for federal legislation strengthen anti-scam laws put in place by the majority of states.

Amazon-backed protective gear maker 3M has sued several third-party sellers for charging “excessively inflated” prices for some of its products.

But while the more extreme increases could be taken into account, the PIRG study suggested that a large number of products had prices held at a significantly higher level in the long run.

Its report looked at 15 distinct categories in the US market, comparing price from December 1, 2019 to December 1, 2020. It used data from Keepa, a service that tracks millions of listings on Amazon.com and its international sites.

He found that 66 percent of sheet masks saw their prices increase by more than 20 percent, while nearly 80 percent of disinfectant wipes increased by 20 percent or more.

Computer monitors have seen some of the biggest increases in dollar terms – 19% in prices having doubled during that time.

Products with significant price increases on Amazon.  Cotton face mask with replaceable PM2.5 activated carbon mask for running, cycling, washable and reusable warm windproof mask probe well

Most of the products that had been inflated were sold by third-party sellers – independent companies that list their products on Amazon and use the company’s warehousing and delivery infrastructure. But, Ms Brombach said, one in seven products surveyed was sold by Amazon itself.

“Amazon blamed third-party sellers, for the most part, for the price gouging,” she said. “And so I think it’s important to show that there have been instances where Amazon was the supplier of those products that have seen these massive price spikes.”

Amazon disputed the findings of the report. It argued that the data failed to compare its prices with those of competitors, such as Walmart, and did not take into account market pressures such as increased storage costs or chain constraints. supply – all factors that can increase the selling price of a product. The company said that since PIRG refused to share raw data from its study, it was unable to process the price of a specific product.

“We have a long-standing policy against price abuse, have processes in place to proactively block suspicious offers and monitor our store 24/7 for violations,” Amazon said. “In 2020 alone, we blocked or deleted over 39 million listings and suspended over 13,000 sales accounts for attempted price fraud.

“We have also referred the most egregious violators to federal and state law enforcement, worked with over 40 state attorneys general across the country to prosecute bad actors, and advocated for a federal price standard.”

Retail industry analyst Neil Saunders said the PIRG report showed there had been “sharp price increases” across the board, but cautioned against assuming that the increases were motivated by profit.

“Many retailers have increased prices this year on commodities,” he said. “Not so much because they overpriced, but just because they don’t really give discounts and offers on things like toilet paper, for obvious reasons – they don’t need it and they do. want to manage demand. “

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