© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2020

Price gouging: hand sanitiser sold for $150 a litre

Antoinette Spicer
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Face masks advertised four times their usual price and hand sanitiser sold for $150 a litre are just some of the complaints Consumer New Zealand has received since the beginning of lockdown.

Jessica Wilson, head of research at Consumer New Zealand, believes price-gouging of products is likely due to the limited range of stores open where consumers can buy products.

“A lot of the complaints are about products being advertised online, these [retailers are charging] sky-high prices for face masks and hand sanitisers at hundreds of dollars a litre.

"Price-gouging per se isn't illegal," Wilson explained. “What is illegal is to mislead consumers about the reason why prices have increased - and that would be a breach of the Fair Trading Act if any retailer did that."

Wilson has also received complaints about products making unfounded claims about their health benefits.

She said teas, essential oils and colloidal silver are among products touted as treatments for coronavirus. 

"We are currently investigating a complaint about one retailer that operates here [in New Zealand], as well as overseas, which is selling essential oils and making claims about them.”

She said Consumer NZ is also investigating a company which claims its cleaning products “have been made specifically for COVID-19”.

Wilson said consumers who come across price-gouging can raise the issue with the trader, however, she advised that consumers ‘best protection’ is to not “buy into these [retailers] misleading claims and sky-high prices.”

You can report misleading claims to the Commerce Commission or Consumer New Zealand by emailing info@consumer.org.nz with:

  • the details of the product, the price and/or claims made (a photo would be great)
  • the name and location of the store (or the website address if you found the product online).