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Amid Coronavirus, Amazon and eBay Under Scrutiny for Price Gouging in Italy

By Rich Duprey - Updated Mar 13, 2020 at 3:36PM

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The country has been one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both (AMZN 3.09%) and eBay (EBAY 1.19%) are under investigation by Italian antitrust regulators after prices for products like hand sanitizer and disinfectant skyrocketed on their e-commerce sites as the coronavirus outbreak intensified.

Other than China, Italy has been the country most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 15,000 confirmed cases and over 1,000 deaths. The entire country was placed on quarantine and its citizens have been told to stay at home. All retailers except pharmacies and grocery stores were ordered to close.

Hands applying sanitizer

Image source: Getty Images.

A widespread development

Italy's regulators said they were opening probes into the two companies after prices for a number of products in high demand soared on their Italian e-commerce platforms amid the outbreak. They are also investigating allegations that some sellers on the sites had misleadingly described their products as being effective against the coronavirus.

Many retailers that operate third-party e-commerce marketplaces, including Walmart and Etsy, have struggled to combat price gouging as COVID-19 spread. Amazon and eBay both sought to control overcharging by either removing listings or banning listing of certain products altogether. Last month, Facebook banned ads for anything that promised to cure the coronavirus.

Consumer brands have also responded to reports of price gouging. The Consumer Brands Association, representing companies like Clorox and Colgate-Palmolive, wrote to the U.S. attorney general asking him to prevent retailers from taking advantage of consumers by raising retail prices.

eBay told Reuters it was ready to assist authorities to identify abuse while Amazon said it was still looking into the matter.

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