Amazon is struggling to tackle virus price gouging: Here’s why

Amazon is struggling to contain the spread of price gouging on its site as “bad actors” drive up the prices of highly demanded goods.

US Senator Edward Markey called on Amazon on Wednesday to do more to “prevent profiteering on sales of items such as hand-sanitizer and surgical masks.

He added: “Internet-based retailers such as have a particular responsibility to guard against price gouging in current circumstances as consumers — who are finding the shelves of local brick-and-mortar stores bare, and who may wish to avoid venturing into crowded stores and shopping malls — turn to the internet.”

This came amid continued headlines of severely inflated prices, with bottles of sanitizer usually costing $10 listed for as much as $400 on third party sellers’ pages.

In response Amazon said it had removed more tens of thousands of items which it suspected of price gouging, alongside the removal one million items making false medical claims about their ability to prevent the spread of the virus.

READ MORE: 1 million items removed from Amazon for false coronavirus claims

An Amazon spokesperson said: “We are disappointed that bad actors are attempting to artificially raise prices on basic need products during a global health crisis”.

Despite the retailer reportedly monitoring its listings for violations 24 hours a day, many inflated prices can still be found listed on its site with relative ease.

One way in which Amazon is tackling the issue is by replacing the usual “Buy Now” or “Add to Cart” buttons on items it suspects of being inflated, with “See All Buying Options” forcing users to view other options and therefore the price discrepancy, according to Recode.

However, some listings bypass this price-monitoring technology by bundling items together which are not sold anywhere else so cannot be compared to other prices, making them much harder to identify.

Another and perhaps more difficult reason is simply the scale of Amazon’s marketplace.

Former Amazon employee and founder of Buy Box Experts James Thompson told Recode: “Realistically, (it’s) too much manual work for Amazon. They already took down 1 million items, but (it’s a) constant cat-and-mouse game.”

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