The ACCC and NSW Fair Trading have weighed in after a shopper made a startling discovery in a western Sydney discount store.
As the nation grapples with the impacts of the coronavirus crisis, some members of society are taking the opportunity to profit from the desperation of others.
NSW shopper Liz detailed one such incident of profiteering to 7NEWS.com.au, revealing how a budget store in Sydney was re-packaging and price gouging much-needed products such as hand sanitiser and face masks.
Liz said she “spotted several plastic pump bottles” at a store in Merrylands on March 20, priced at $25 each for a 450ml bottle.
To make matters worse, the bottles had “no labels, no warnings for allergies, no nothing” – clearly flouting the Federal Department of Health’s mandatory labelling standard.
“Gee some people really are opportunistic,” Liz told 7NEWS.com.au.
“I was looking for something and I noticed a clear bottle that looked to have gel in it.
“When I asked them about it they told me it was hand sanitiser. When I asked ‘where was the label’ she (the shop attendant) said ‘they don’t have one’.
“So I asked, ‘how were people supposed to know what’s in it? What about allergies?’
“She shrugged her shoulders, then took it out the back to the boss, and then put it back in the same place besides the masks which were $20 for 3.”
Similar face masks were found online selling for 20 cents each – while a 450ml bottle of hand sanitiser normally retails at around $10.
Not the worst example
Incredibly, the Merrylands discount store wasn’t the worst example of price gouging of hand sanitiser in Sydney.
Angry shoppers spotted one store in Sydney’s east selling a 450ml bottle of ‘Scotts instant hand sanitiser’ for $50.
“Outrageous, absolute disgrace, it makes my blood boil,” a shopper told 7NEWS about the profiteering.
And while price gouging tends to reflect the worst in society, one Sydney store owner is using the method to make people think twice about taking a self-centred approach to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the Redfern Convenience Store, in Sydney’s south, one two-roll packet of toilet paper has been priced at $3.50 – two packs for $99.
“Some people very crazy for that (toilet paper), they take too much, I don’t know why,” the store owner told 7NEWS.
“I need to (somehow) make it fair for everyone.”
A NSW Fair Trading spokesperson told 7NEWS.com.au that vendors should be taking a respectful approach to selling essential products such as hand sanitiser during these times of high demand.
“NSW Fair Trading is aware price increases on specific consumer goods such as hand sanitiser and face masks,” the spokesperson said.
“These goods, like most, are not subject to government-regulated pricing, therefore businesses may set their own prices for these goods and commonly do so by weighing the availability of supply against the customer demand.
“Vendors and consumers are encouraged to engage in transactions fairly and respectfully during these uncertain times.
Breaching consumer law
“Only through supporting one another and all playing a part, will we be able to weather this unprecedented crisis.”
Meanwhile, a spokesperson from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission told 7NEWS.com.au that businesses could be breaching consumer law in setting excessive prices on essential goods.
“The ACCC cannot prevent or take action to stop excessive pricing, as it has no role in setting prices,” the spokesperson said.
“If a business makes misleading claims about the reason for price increases, it will be breaching the Australian Consumer Law.
“In some cases, the excessive pricing may amount to unconscionable conduct, which is also in breach of the Australian Consumer Law.
“The ACCC will look at any systemic conduct, and is working with online marketplaces such as Gumtree, eBay, Amazon and Facebook to ensure they are doing what they can to disrupt individuals seeking to sell certain essential items at excessive prices.”
The spokesperson also revealed that the ACCC has set up a taskforce to take action against businesses engaging in misconduct during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The taskforce will focus on allegations of misconduct that impacts the rights of consumers and small businesses under competition and consumer law,” the spokesperson said.
“The taskforce is designed to intervene rapidly to investigate misconduct under the competition and consumer law relating to COVID-19 outbreak.
“The taskforce is also working closely with other State and Federal regulators to identify misconduct impacting consumers and small businesses.”