price gouging, covid-19, coronavirus, New York City, public advocate, policy brief

On Wednesday, the office of The New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.  released a policy brief that looks at the problem of price gouging during the virus outbreak and ways to address it.

As the coronavirus continues to grip New Yorkers, one thing we are learning is that we are resilient; we are strong. But what’s also resilient, apparently, are the city’s retail prices. They haven’t budged and in many cases as it concerns items in demand such as food, hand sanitizer, and other critical safety supplies, the prices have actually gone up.

At Foodtown grocery store in Bed-Stuy, for example, this past weekend there were virtually no sales on food, despite the health crisis and during a time when many are out of work. In fact, it seemed the store was pricing items at the highest threshold before they couldn’t sell. For example, a whole Purdue chicken was $36; a carton of eggs that normally costs $2.99 was $5.99. And a loaf of bread normally priced at 4.99 was $7.

And it’s not just happening locally; it’s happening nationwide. A report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group found that since the early reports of the virus outbreak in January 2020, nearly one in six of the products sold directly by Amazon had prices spike 50 percent higher than the 90-day average.

For example, before selling out on Amazon, Lysol disinfecting wipes (a package of four containers) averaged $11.79. Prices then spiked among third-party sellers to almost $180 before coming down to $54.

HOW TO AVOID PRICE GOUGING

  1. Use a price tracking tool like CamelCamelCamel or Keepa to see if the price increased recently.
  2. Compare the price to similar products, especially looking at the cost per unit. There was a $459 bottle of hand sanitizer–and it was only 50 ml.
  3. Be cautious of buying opened products that are being resold in singles or some that appeared in the last few days. There were two surgical masks sold individually at a 600% markup.
  4. Check ingredients closely: The CDC says the only kind of hand sanitizer known to kill the Coronavirus has at least 60% alcohol in it.
  5. If there is no “buy box” on Amazon, consider not buying it. In some cases, Amazon is removing the option to immediately purchase because they think it violates their fair pricing policy.
“Price gouging is illegal and unethical. It puts personal greed over public good. And in the midst of this crisis, we have seen it around our city – bad actors taking advantage of New Yorkers in need,” said Williams.

 “It’s clear that further action is needed to stop suppliers and retailers alike from this egregious profiteering against the health and safety of our neighbors, so my office is calling for increased enforcement and penalties on a city and state level, and mandated reporting to show New Yorkers that we are hearing their concerns and taking serious, direct action to protect against these unscrupulous tactics.”

The Public Advocate is calling on the Attorney General and the NY Department of Consumer and Worker Protection to impose a three-strike penalty on gouging, with the first offense leading to a lower fine, the second a maximum, and the third triggering the revoking of the merchant’s permits.
He implored the Attorney General and the DCWP to take action against distributors who price gouge and then pass the cost on to retailers, and subsequently, consumers.

Williams also called for the passage of legislation aimed at combating price gouging on essential items during the current and any future states of emergency.


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  1. recently we went to the store which normally is one of the best priced stores in our neighborhood. Now the $2.00 eggs are $6.00. this is disgusting..so if you have some money for stocks put them into food companies.

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