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Ebay and Amazon urged to clamp down on coronavirus profiteering

Third-party sellers are ripping-off consumers on online marketplaces by exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to list overpriced items that are difficult or impossible to find in local shops. (Getty)

Amazon Marketplace (AMZN) and eBay (EBAY) are being urged to crack down on sellers profiteering from the coronavirus pandemic by offering everyday household items that are in short supply in shops at inflated prices, according to consumer group Which?.

Which? said it found cleaning products, thermometers, baby formula, and tampons for sale on the online platforms for highly inflated prices.

In several cases prices were about 10 times higher than what shoppers would normally expect to pay and in some instances the mark-ups were even higher.

Which? found hundreds of active listings and auctions for vastly overpriced products, including a £40 thermometer priced at £300 ($354) on eBay and £150 on Amazon. A £3 bottle of disinfectant was on sale for £29.99 on eBay — a markup of up to 1,000% — and was more than three times the recommended price on Amazon.

Read more: One of UK's richest men pledges to build hand sanitiser plant in 10 days

Shoppers are still buying products at these inflated prices — a listing for three bottles of Dettol spray and three packets of antibacterial wipes on eBay’s auction platform saw bids of £210.

Earlier this month, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) warned that traders should not be using the coronavirus pandemic to take advantage of people by increasing prices, and threatened to take strong action if the problem continued.

Which? said the findings demonstrate the failure of “filters” and other checks put in place by online marketplaces to sufficiently protect consumers, despite both eBay and Amazon having stated publicly that they have taken action on the issue.

Which? is calling on online marketplaces to take more decisive action against third-party sellers trying exploit shoppers at this time. 

Both Amazon and eBay claim to have taken action on the price gouging and removed listings and suspended or terminated accounts during the coronavirus pandemic.

Read more: Amazon to stop receiving non-essential items to UK and US warehouses

Sue Davies, 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 if they fall short the CMA must be ready to take strong enforcement action.

“The government should consider how it will work with the retail sector as a whole to keep the price of essential items reasonable as the fallout from the coronavirus outbreak continues.”

A statement from eBay said: “All the items flagged by Which? have been removed and enforcement action has been taken against the sellers.”

“This is a continuation of the aggressive action against price gouging, which has included suspending hundreds of accounts, removing hundreds of thousands of listings, and suspending scores of bad seller accounts.

“Specifically in the face masks and hand sanitiser categories, only pre-approved whitelisted vendors will be allowed to sell these items.

“We are continually monitoring the situation and will consider widening the ban to include other categories if appropriate.”

Read more: Ebay bans sellers from using coronavirus to 'profit from tragedies and disasters'

A statement from Amazon said: “There is no place for price gouging on Amazon.

“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 longstanding policy, have recently blocked or removed tens of thousands of offers.

“In addition to removing these offers, we are terminating accounts.”