Amazon accused of inflating mask prices by up to 1000% amid coronavirus

Public Citizen, an American consumer association accuses Amazon support figures of having inflated the price of certain basic necessities, including masks “sold by Amazon”. However, the platform regularly speaks out against this practice.

Metro Paris masks
Users wear an anti-covid-19 mask in a metro train in Paris / Credits: Davyn Ben via Unsplash

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the American consumer association Public Citizen analyzed in the United States the evolution of the price of a dozen basic necessities – both sold by third parties and directly by Amazon. And the finding is rather overwhelming: between May and August, the price of some products literally exploded – even though it seems totally against the rules of the platform.

Amazon is fighting opportunistic price hikes, and yet …

Since the start of the pandemic, Amazon has however regularly spoken on the subject. For example, revealing that many third-party sellers had to be banned from the site for opportunistically inflating their prices. Where the Public Citizen report is very embarrassing is that it shows that the increases also concerned products which were nevertheless stamped “Sold by Amazon”.

The increases in these products whose price was supposed to remain stable, reports Public Citizen, could go 48% for 1000% hydroalcoholic gel (from $ 4 to $ 39.99) for boxes of 50 disposable Amazon masks. The Consumers Union also talks about toilet paper rolls sold by eight “flashed” for $ 36.39 on Amazon in June compared to $ 6.89 at other sellers. Or an antibacterial soap sold for up to $ 7 when the product was only sold $ 1.49 a few months earlier (+ 470%).

Third-party sellers in the marketplace are not left out, again with many increases. Public Citizen thus mentions increases of up to 274% for antibacterial soap and up to 941% for flour. The report also dwells on the difficulty in realizing these slippages. It is still difficult to know the exact evolution of the prices of certain products over time, except when monitoring a panel directly or if the prices are tracked by extensions like Keepa.

Force platforms like Amazon to be more transparent

It happens that the listings are deleted and replaced by slightly different products making the comparison and any follow-up more complex. Public Citizen calls on authorities to force platforms like Amazon to be more transparent. Their wish would be that, ideally, Amazon displays a history next to its prices, and that the platform stop muddying the waters by creating new listings to replace existing listings.

In a statement taken up by The Verge, Amazon denies having surfed the pandemic. The platform nevertheless admits “A small number of errors in the prices” and underlines having deleted “Over a million bids trying to inflate the prices” as well as over 10,000 accounts from third-party vendors. And to add: “We have referred the most serious cases to state and federal authorities nationwide to be held accountable […] we continue to actively monitor our store and remove offers that violate our policies ”.

Also read: Fortune of Amazon boss Jeff Bezos climbed 20% thanks to coronavirus

Amazon has repeatedly said in the past that there is “No place for opportunistic price increases” on the site, including for products sold directly by the firm. Finally, let us note in conclusion that the price increases noted by Public Citizen are the result of an investigation on the American site. To date, there are no similar analyzes of foreign sites, in particular around the prices charged by the Amazon France platform.

Source: The Verge

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