Senator Writes Amazon CEO Amid Coronavirus Price Gouging

Amidst the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos concerning “coronavirus-inspired price gouging on” Markey wrote that Amazon and other retailers “do not have a right to impose unjustifiably high prices on consumers who are seeking to protect themselves against the coronavirus.” 

Markey further stated that “No one should be allowed to reap a windfall from fear and human suffering.” 

According to the letter, Amazon was selling items at “a more than 2000 percent mark-up, compared to normal retail prices.” For example, “[a] pack of 20 masks made by manufacturer 3M, but sold by an unauthorized reseller, was on sale at $387, compared to a normal retail price of around $14.99.” Hand sanitizer was similarly affected; items that normally were priced at about $10 were selling for $400. Markey noted that Amazon started to remove listings for price-gouged items and reminded retailers to abide by the Fair Pricing Policy. Failure to comply with the policy could block sales when prices are much higher than they were before, whether available on Amazon or another retail location. However, Markey stated that this effort is not enough as retailers described the enforcement as “haphazard” and “their offers were sometimes removed even when they were the lowest-priced option on a specific listing.” Markey noted that it is Amazon’s responsibility to prevent price-gouging and to protect consumers, who are trying to protect themselves.

Sen. Markey posed four questions to Bezos: “How does Amazon determine whether coronavirus-based price gouging is occurring on its platform?”; “At what level is an item considered unfairly priced?”; “How many price-gouging warnings has Amazon issued to sellers seeking to capitalize on the coronavirus? How many listings has Amazon removed or suspended?”’ and “What additional resources is Amazon devoting to ensuring that coronavirus-based price gouging is not occurring on its platform?”

Amazon has until March 18 to respond to Markey’s questions.