Amazon faces a proposed class action that alleges it price-gouged consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Echoing a case filed in April 2020, the 58-page lawsuit says that sales in certain categories of products have increased by more than 1,000 percent as Amazon’s profits have skyrocketed. The case stresses that Amazon, like every seller, has a legal obligation under Washington law to ensure its pricing does not exploit consumers facing emergency conditions.
“That is, price gouging is not just immoral, it is a manifest violation of the Washington Consumer Protection Act (‘WCPA’) and other state laws,” the complaint says.
Though the suit concedes that price fluctuations exist in any dynamic market, Amazon’s conduct amid the coronavirus pandemic, the lawsuit claims, amounts to leveraging the crisis to “profit unfairly off consumers in real need.” Available data shows that Amazon’s price increases for certain products have been “anything but normal,” the complaint states, listing the following products whose prices allegedly spiked:
Face Masks: Increases up to 1,800 percent, from $4.21 to $79.99;
Cold Remedies: Increases up to 1,523 percent, from $4.65 to $79.00;
Toilet Paper: Increases up to 1,044 percent, from $17.48 to $200;
Pain Reliever: Increases up to 233 percent, from $18.75 to $62.40;
Black Beans: Increases up to 521 percent, from $3.54 to $21.99;
Baking Soda: Increases of more than 1,500 percent, from $3.08 to $50.00;
Flour: Increases up to 400 percent, from $22.00 to $110.00;
Yeast: Increases up to 625 percent, from $7.02 to $50.95; and
Disinfectant Wipes: Increases of more than 745 percent, from $20.71 to $174.96.
All of the alleged price increases detailed in the lawsuit are “flagrantly unlawful” under Washington law, the suit claims.
Prior to the lawsuit’s filing, Amazon has acknowledged price gouging on its platform yet “deflected responsibility” onto third-party suppliers who use the defendant’s services to market their goods, the case continues. According to the suit, Amazon’s public relations with regard to price gouging have obscured the facts that the company controls virtually every aspect of the sale of third parties’ products, including prices, and that Amazon has “inflated prices on its own inventory of products” it supplies and sells directly to consumers amid the pandemic.
“In short, while claiming to combat third-party price gouging, Amazon has jacked prices on its own inventory of products to profiteer off consumers in desperate need,” the suit claims.
The lawsuit’s three plaintiffs allege to have bought items from Amazon during the pandemic at “excessive and unfair prices” anywhere from 58 percent to 469 percent higher than what they were prior to the onset of COVID-19.
The case looks to represent a proposed class of all persons who bought any consumer good or food item on Amazon.com after January 31, 2020 at a price at least 15 percent greater than the price charged on the website for the same good or food item prior to that date.
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