A spike in coronavirus cases around the world in recent weeks has caused droves of Australians to strip shelves bare of certain products. Toiler paper is an obvious one but hand sanitiser is also in short supply and some stores, like a Priceline in Sydney, have managed to procure supplies and are selling them for exorbitant prices.
A Priceline store in Sydney's Chippendale has been spotted on Twitter selling a one litre bottle of hand sanitiser for $44.95.
— L Ron Husband (@mattDCLXVI) March 17, 2020
It sounds ridiculous but Priceline told Lifehacker Australia it's allegedly due to the sourcing cost of the product.
"All Priceline Pharmacies have been advised to continue to sell products at their normal retail prices. We are aware that some customers have queried the pricing of a specific sanitiser in our Central Park franchise store in Sydney," a Priceline spokesperson said to Lifehacker Australia over email.
"This particular hand sanitiser is hospital grade and not normally ranged in Priceline. The store owner needed to source directly from the supplier and not through the Priceline Pharmacy supply chain.
"The retail price charged is in line with a normal retail selling price given the specifics of this product and the sourcing cost of the product. The store has decided to now sell these items behind the counter and will also ensure each enquiry comes with a pharmacist consultation to ensure full clarity of purchase, including why this particular item is more expensive than normal sanitiser."
The hand sanitiser appears to be a product sold by a Sydney supplier, Dalcon Hygiene. We've contacted the company to confirm the RRP but it has yet to respond.
Other brands on Priceline's own site as well as other retailers show a stark difference in the cost. On Miniso, a one litre sanitiser alleging to be 'hospital grade' is also being sold for nearly half the price — $24.99. One litre of Aqium Antibacterial Hand Sanitiser, that is 'hospital grade', is normally on sale at Chemist Warehouse for $14.49.
Price gouging is when businesses increase prices when supplies are limited and demand is high, according to a Queensland Government site.
It's not strictly illegal but businesses could be fined if the action is found to be 'unconscionable' or unreasonable.
ACCC told Lifehacker Australia it was a breach of Australian Consumer Law if businesses misled customers about pricing increases but the watchdog was not responsible for setting product prices.
"In some limited circumstances excessive pricing may be unconscionable, for example where the product is critical to the health or safety of vulnerable consumers," an ACCC spokesperson told Lifehacker Australia in a statement.
"If a business makes misleading claims about the reason for price increases, it will be breaching the Australian Consumer Law."
The best thing consumers can do in these situations is report the sighting to the ACCC and avoid encouraging the tactic by not purchasing it. For some desperate Australians, however, it's unfortunately not something they can avoid right now.
While our shopping trolleys are always a creative blend of essential and non-essential products, there are a few items that make a regular appearance. For those items, you should make a note of how much it costs each time you pick it up to ensure the supermarket isn't overcharging you for your basics.