Amazon vendors hiked prices on 'essential' products amid coronavirus pandemic, report suggests

Amazon sellers doubled prices on 136 items deemed essential last year, according to a US PIRG report

Amazon sellers raised prices on 136 items deemed essential, including some personal protective equipment, during the coronavirus pandemic, a new report suggests.

A report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund released Thursday analyzed prices of “essential” products such as face masks, pulse oximeters, surgical gloves, hand sanitizer and toilet paper and found the sellers of 409 items raised the prices by more than 20% in the last year.

Amazon sellers doubled prices on 136 items deemed essential last year, according to a U.S. PIRG report. (iStock). 

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund used data from 15 product categories with 50 listings per category looking at a total of 750 products. For each, it noted the price of the listing on Dec. 1, 2019, before the new coronavirus became widespread in the U.S., and compared it with the price listed for the same item on Dec. 1, 2020. The data used is said to come from product listings that have been tracked on the e-commerce website the longest, or at least one year.

At least 136 products out of the listings collected doubled in price. Of the 409 listings with price increases of over 20%, one in seven were sold directly by Amazon, according to the report. The report acknowledged some price increases are due to heightened demand and not all are protected under current price-gouging laws.

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Items such as hand soaps, disinfectant wipes, cough syrup, paper towels, eye protection and oral thermometers had price increases of more than 20%. Different types of patio heaters, used for restaurants across the country to continue outdoor dining in the cooler months and used by homeowners, accounted for 10 of the largest price increases by percentage.

The highest price hike on toilet paper was $79.04 from a year ago, with one vendor selling 36 rolls for as much as $109.99. The price of surgical gloves, meanwhile, showed that just 16% of sellers raised prices by 20% or more. Overall, the highest price increase on surgical gloves was $184.23 -- from $65.65 to $249.88 -- for a box of 1,000 pairs.

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“Items that are not considered PPE or essential supplies still serve an important purpose as a result of stressful pandemic circumstances, and sellers should remain aware of the effect huge price spikes can have on their customers,” U.S. PIRG Education Fund consumer watchdog associate Grace Brombach, author of the report, wrote.

An Amazon spokesperson told FOX Business in an emailed statement it has blocked or removed over 39 million offers and suspended more than 13,000 selling accounts for attempted price gouging.

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“Sellers set their own product prices in our store. We have a long-standing policy against price gouging, have processes in place to proactively block suspicious offers, and monitor our store 24/7 for violations,” the spokesperson said. “We also referred the most egregious offenders to federal and state law enforcement, have worked with more than 40 state attorneys general across the country to prosecute bad actors and advocated for a federal price-gouging standard.”