The lawsuit, filed by Mary McQueen and Victoria Ballinger, accuses Amazon of violating California’s Unfair Competition Law. This law prohibits sellers from raising the prices of certain consumer goods and services by more than 10 percent after an emergency has been declared. The law covers good such as food and drink, personal hygiene products (such as toilet paper), cleaning products, medical supplies as well as emergency supplies, such as water, candles and batteries. (Related: Coronavirus infections in Amazon warehouses may increase “exponentially,” warns new report.)
As an example, the suit pointed out that the prices of the following items were hiked after COVID-19 was declared a public health emergency by state officials.
The suit also cites data from a study by the United States Public Interest Research Group Education Fund (PIRG) that shows that Amazon’s prices for a number of public health products, particularly those in high demand during the current coronavirus outbreak, increased by more than 50 percent in February above their 90-day average.
Prices for hand sanitizers were found to have increased by at least 50 percent more, while prices for surgical masks on average went up by 166 percent more than usual. At times, the prices of some products went up by 2.3 times as much as their usual average price.
“Our findings are conservative because the 90-day average included the time period after the WHO [coronavirus] declaration,” noted the PIRG.
The plaintiffs seek repayment to consumers for Amazon’s price gouging. They’re also asking for injunctive relief from the court to stop Amazon from continuing to overprice these products.
In addition to this, the suit also alleged that unlawful price increases occurred on third-party sales, on top of Amazon’s own product sales. It alleges that Amazon is responsible for both sets of violations.
“Some of the unlawful increases were on sales of products supplied by third parties, sales which Amazon controls and reaps huge profits from,” alleged the suit.
The plaintiffs also highlighted Amazon’s hypocrisy in regards to price gouging. In the suit, they pointed out how Amazon champions its efforts to prevent third-party sellers from engaging in the practice while they themselves indulge in it.
“Perhaps most troublingly, Amazon has maintained its unlawfully high prices on many essential items while publicly trumpeting its efforts to prevent price gouging by third-party suppliers,” they stated in the suit.
On a blog post dated March 23, Amazon stated that “price gouging has no place in our stores.”
” Amazon has zero tolerance for price gouging and longstanding policies and systems to prevent this harmful practice. We’re working vigorously to combat price gouging,” read the post.
When asked about the lawsuit by The Sun, an Amazon spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuit. The spokesperson, however, shared a statement from the company which says that Amazon has already acted on reports of third party sellers price gouging.
“Our teams are monitoring our store 24/7 and have already removed tens of thousands of offers for attempted price gouging,” said the spokesperson.
“We continue to actively monitor our store and remove offers that violate our policies.”
The spokesperson also added that Amazon was “disappointed that bad actors are attempting to take advantage of this global health crisis.”