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Hundreds of price hike complaints under investigation amid Covid-19 outbreak

By Karishma Dipa Time of article published Apr 7, 2020

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The Competition Commission SA (CCSA) has received more than 650 complaints in just three weeks from enraged consumers over the hiking of prices of essential goods amid the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

CCSA’s head of communication, Sipho Ngwenya, told the Saturday Star that many of these complaints were around hygiene products including hand sanitisers, masks, toilet paper and to some extent, food items.

“During a count conducted on Thursday, we received 650 complaints from around March 15, when the president announced the national state of disaster.”

Since then, the CCSA had issued around 200 warnings to retailers.

Ngwenya said many of these stores had responded positively, with sometaking action to rectify the situation.

“Massmart has since started implementing price freezes and Spar has specials on many goods now.”

Ngwenya believes that the head offices of retail stores are not necessarily to blame for the price increases, and that franchises placed mark-ups on goods during the lockdown.

“In many of the unjustified price increases, the head offices of retailers intervened, as it is often found that some franchise store owners are reasonable for inflating prices and not necessarily head offices themselves.

“These head offices often intervened after we alerted them, and in many instances the situation was rectified and the prices were reduced.

“In some cases consumers were even refunded.”

Ngwenya urged retailers to conduct their business in the same manner they had before the spread of Covid-19 and the consequent lockdown.

“The increase in the cost of goods should be in conjunction with a retailer’s operating and business costs.

“They shouldn’t take advantage of consumers just because we are in a crisis; they have to conduct their business as they normally would, and shouldn't alter it now because of the coronavirus.”

He pleaded with consumers not to panic-buy hygiene goods and food products because this was causing additional demand for these items and resulted in retailers hiking prices on them.

“We urge consumers to remain calm and not panic-buy because this triggers the unscrupulous behaviour of retail stores - inflating prices.”

Ngwenya said the CCSA would continue to monitor the price of goods after the Covid-19 outbreak, and said consumers should continue to report inflated prices.

The Saturday Star

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