Hundreds of items that have become commonplace (some essentials, such as masks or disinfectant gel) since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared have dramatically increased in price on Amazon, according to an investigation carried out by a US organization defense of consumers. Despite the e-commerce giant claiming to have a zero-tolerance policy against sellers who abuse its platform, the report calls into question the effectiveness of those measures.
The research has been carried out by US Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG), a consumer advocacy organization, by tracking and comparing sales prices in the US Amazon store of 750 products from 15 categories from December 1, 2019 to one year later. The chosen products, some sold by Amazon directly and others by companies that use its platform (marketplace), had been on sale on Amazon for at least a year, counting until December 1, 2020, to remove “opportunistic” retailers from the equation emerged to make the August with the health crisis. They used data from Keepa, a price-tracking tool that tracks more than 1 billion products sold on Amazon.
Thus, USPIRG concludes that, of the 750 products analyzed, 409 increased in that period at least 20% (of these, one in seven were sold by Amazon) and 136 of them doubled the price, with increases that range from 13 , 1 dollars (10.8 euros) to 4,000 (3,287 euros). Not all are basic necessities, but they have also chosen some that the pandemic has turned into sales successes, such as oral thermometers, computer monitors or outdoor stoves, those that are put on the terraces of bars, which have appeared also in Spain in many terraces of houses due to the fear of receiving guests inside. These top the list of the 10 biggest percentage increases in price.
The 15 categories analyzed in the report are: cloth masks, surgical gloves, protective glasses, toilet paper, paper towels (of those used in public toilets), tissues (kleenex type), disinfectant wipes, disinfectant gels, hand soaps, cough syrups, oral thermometers, pulse oximeters (devices to measure oxygen saturation in the blood), outdoor heaters, computer monitors and systems to improve the home Wi-Fi network. In each of the categories, 50 products were chosen whose prices were followed.
To cite some examples, 66% of the 50 masks analyzed increased more than 20%, as well as 78% of the wipes or 77% of the gels, while only 16% of the ones became more expensive. gloves. Although only one in three of the 50 monitors analyzed rose more than 20%, this category registered the largest increase, a 23-inch device that went from 200 to 4,200 dollars in a year. In the case of stoves, 45% of the products analyzed at least doubled in price (the most, from 150 to 699 dollars).
USPIRG admits that some supply chain problems and “other market factors can influence small price increases in highly demanded products,” but also claims that there have been “massive spikes” on Amazon “while prices of the same products in [otras tiendas online como] Walmart, Target and others have been almost unchanged. “
Policy against abuse
Depending on how the company works, Amazon sellers are free to set prices (Amazon takes a commission for each item sold), but it has a policy to control abuse: it penalizes increases with a worse search ranking. , and even expels sellers from its platform who unjustifiably increase prices. The general director of the company for Spain and Italy, Mariangela Marseglia, assured EL PAÍS in May that since the beginning of the pandemic, 6,000 vendors had been vetoed for these abuses. Now there are 13,000, according to Amazon assures the authors of the report, underlining that they monitor the prices of their platform 24 hours a day.
The report echoes this policy, but “given its power as a retailer (its sales increased 40% in the second quarter, the hardest lockdown), it must do more to reinforce its fair pricing policy on its platform, both for external sellers as well as for their own products ”. “We have referred the most prominent offenders to federal and state authorities, we work with more than 40 state prosecutors in the US to prosecute them, and we advocate a policy against price abuse at the state level,” Amazon responds to investigators.