Which? found a £40 thermometer on sale on eBay for £300 © Getty Images
Which? found a £40 thermometer on sale on eBay for £300 © Getty Images

Coronavirus: watchdog wants to know when suppliers hike prices

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
26 March 2020

The UK competition watchdog has called for firms in the food and medical sectors to alert it when suppliers hike prices during the coronavirus outbreak.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which has set up a dedicated taskforce to investigate misleading claims and price rises associated with Covid-19, has written an open letter to the pharmaceutical and food and drink industries.

“We understand that some price rises may result from constraints further up the supply chain,” said the CMA.

“For example, if an individual firm raises its prices as a result of passing on increased prices from wholesalers or suppliers, then this may be unavoidable.

“However, where this is happening, we would like to hear from you about any information relating to such price increases by wholesalers or suppliers, so that we can investigate these issues further up the supply chain.”

The CMA said most businesses were “striving to do the right thing” but “we have received reports that a minority of firms in your sector are seeking to capitalise on the current situation by charging unjustifiably high prices for essential goods or making misleading claims around their efficacy”.

“It is therefore vital that any poor behaviour is nipped in the bud now and we will use all of the powers available to us to ensure that markets continue to work well during the coronavirus outbreak.”

Among the taskforce’s roles will be to scrutinise markets to identify “harmful sales and pricing practices”, issue warnings, take enforcement action and advise the government on emergency legislation.

Consumer group Which? has accused eBay and Amazon Marketplace of failing to crack down on coronavirus profiteering, with “consistent overpricing” for goods including cleaning products, thermometers, baby formula and tampons. A £40 thermometer was priced at £300 on eBay and £150 on Amazon. A £3 bottle of disinfectant was on sale on eBay for £30.

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