Coronavirus: Third of consumers forced to pay 'sky-high' prices for essential medical products

Lily Canter
·2-min read
The price of hand sanitiser rocketed online and in stores during the height of the pandemic. Credit: Getty.
The price of hand sanitiser rocketed online and in stores during the height of the pandemic. Credit: Getty.

Opportunistic sellers have forced customers into paying inflated prices for essential hygiene and medical products during the coronavirus pandemic.

A report by consumer champion Which? reveals more than a third of people believe they have paid "sky-high" prices for vital items.

Price gouging issues have been reported both online and in-store, according to 1,500 reports sent to the Which? over the past two months.

Tech giants Amazon (AMZN) and eBay (EBAY) accounted for the majority of the alleged profiteering listings.

Three-quarters of items with inflated prices reported to Which? were seen online. Dettol handwash was being sold via Amazon, unknown to the brand, for £14.99 ($18.71) rather than £1.49 and a packet of paracetamol was on sale in a local store for more than seven times the usual price.

One consumer who bought a case of hand sanitiser from Chemist-4-u.com told Which?: “I am furious that after buying hand sanitiser for £64.99 in late March, more recently the price has magically fallen by £40.

“I am a non-medical frontline worker and as a self-employed lawyer I am reliant on hand sanitiser to keep myself and others safe.”

The reporting tool also found medical-grade face masks selling for 20 times the usual price via medical supply website UK Meds. And a FFP3 mask from eBay in May was on sale for £19.99 instead of £4 – five times the price.

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Which? found that the average percentage price difference for hygiene products such as hand sanitiser and disinfectant was 414% – five times the price on average.

Four in 10 of the essential hygiene products which were reported as having inflated prices were hand sanitiser and soap.

Across all product categories, 30% of people had bought an item at an inflated price while four in 10 reported that they simply had to go without because of the excessive price of the product.

Sue Davies, head of consumer protection at Which?, said: “Our tool reports show that price hikes on essential items have too often been excessive and people consider them to be unfair and exploitative.

“International experience shows that price gouging is frequently a problem during national emergencies and the UK should ensure it is better able to crack down on profiteering."