Guest expert, Gary Rycroft on how to avoid being ripped off at the shops
Every Monday, Resolver’s inbox and social media pages are bulging with your comments! As well as complaints and examples of businesses behaving badly, we get sent a lot of pictures. By far the most popular subject at the moment is rip-off prices at shops.
This isn’t just independent retailers whacking up the price of hand sanitiser or people chancing it on eBay. Some pretty major brands have hiked prices. This is known as ‘price gouging’ and Resolver has asked top TV legal eagle, Gary Rycroft what you can do about it.
What is price gouging?
Price gouging sounds painful, doesn’t it? And it really does hurt your bank balance. Price gouging is the practice where shops and businesses significantly inflate the price of goods and services which are in high demand. I’ve seen some pretty outrageous examples in these strange times of Covid-19, but the most common ones so far have been hand sanitiser, face masks, bleach (thanks Donald) and toilet rolls.
How do I spot it?
It may be obvious to you that goods you buy regularly have shot up in value. If you do a big shop you might not always pass the ‘how much is a pint of milk’ test that tries the patience of politicians on the campaign trail. But you may find that some items are so obviously more expensive than they used to be the price jumps out at you. You may also spot big differences when comparing different shops. For example, many people are reporting off-patent, generic Ibuprofen is retailing at £2-£3 in some shops but is still available at ‘three for a pound’ in others.
There’s a real science behind shopping, advertising and pricing. There may be more subtle ways to make you feel you need to buy products at inflated prices such as online messages saying the item is about to run out of stock, which encourages people to panic buy. Or having limited quantities of items on the shelves.
How do I report it?
If you are shopping using an online marketplace such as Amazon or eBay you can take a screen shot and report the seller to the platform and ask them to take action. Different platforms have different ways of reporting bad practice and many will take action against retailers who behave in this way. Any seller exploiting the pandemic carries a reputational risk for the platform, so it makes sense for them to act.
Otherwise the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) – which is a non-ministerial Government Department – are keeping a close eye on price gouging. The CMA (which is doing amazing work over the lockdown) has an online tool to report any business you think is behaving unfairly during the Covid-19 outbreak. In less than a month the CMA received 21,000 such complaints.
Bear in mind that you can report businesses to the CMA, but if you think you’ve been ripped off or want to make a complaint about a retailer, you can do so using Resolver’s free complaints tool.
What does the law say about price gouging?
Not much, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have rights. The powers of the CMA are limited to its role. So it can take businesses to court and demand they explain their inflated prices. However, the CMA says its powers to take action – and do it quickly – need beefing up. So in the last few days the CMA has called on the Government to introduce emergency legislation to widen their powers so they can swiftly penalise businesses who are proven to be profiteering. I approve thoroughly.
What can consumers do in the meantime?
If you are in shop and see what you think are inflated prices, you can choose not have to buy the product, though of course on some occasions that may be impossible because of an urgent need. In either case it is worth reporting the business to the CMA using the online tool mentioned above. Make a complaint if you are suitably annoyed. It’s quick and easy to do. If enough people make a stand, the business will take notice.
If you have bought goods or services online remember that under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 you have a 14-day period to return the items purchased and in that case you must be refunded in full (note you may need to pay the cost of returning the goods – though most retailers – and certainly ethical retailers – have a free return service).
Gary Rycroft is a leading broadcaster and legal expert as well as being Resolver’s go-to expert for all things law-related. He’s a partner Joseph A Jones & Co Solicitors.
If you’ve had it with rip-off prices, you can make a complaint with Resolver in just a few clicks. Get started at https://www.resolver.co.uk/