BBB Alert: Coronavirus Price Gouging is Up

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Price gouging is up over the past week as communities across the country react to COVID-19 (coronavirus), according to the Better Business Bureau.

Across the country, BBB has seen an increase in complaints from consumers about price gouging from bottled water to hand sanitizer as "social distancing" is being recommended.

"We have reports of anything from a small corner store selling $20 eight-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer to online stores selling masks for over $100," says Robyn Householder, President and CEO of Better Business Bureau serving Middle Tennessee and Southern Kentucky. "In times like this, it is important to remember that consumers and businesses will remember how each other acted during this time. Patience and support of each other has never been more important"

Householder recommends reporting price gouging at BBB.org/AdTruth. The nonprofit organization says it will follow up with companies that have inflated prices in the wake of the crisis and will work with the offices of the Attorney General in both TN and KY, along with other appropriate agencies to address particularly egregious cases. As a business or a consumer, you can also visit the Kentucky or Tennessee Attorney General's website to report price gouging as well.

Although the legal definition of price gouging varies by jurisdiction, BBB says raising prices to an unreasonable extent beyond a business's increased costs is a violation of its Standards for Trust, which encourages businesses to build trust through honesty, transparency, and integrity. BBB suggests business owners and managers use its Standards for Trust as best practices for operating under the current restrictions (BBB.org/Standards-for-Trust).

The BBB adapted its standards for marketplace trust to the coronavirus pandemic:
  • Build Trust--Refrain from taking unfair advantage of a public emergency such as the coronavirus situation. As much as possible, keep prices at a reasonable level. Consider your daily operations as business-as-usual but with the adjustments required to help prevent the virus from spreading.
  • Advertise Honestly--Do not fuel fears. More than anything, you need to act as a calming and reassuring partner to your customers. Continue with standard ethical advertising practices but add a reference that you're following public health protocols to stem the transmission of the virus.
  • Tell the Truth--The virus may impact deliverables. Be honest with your customers regarding timelines and product availability. Set realistic expectations if your delivery or service is impacted by illness or precautions. Set clear expectations with your customers. They will respect that you are thinking about them and taking this seriously.
  • Be Transparent/Honor Promises--If you are unable to fulfill commitments, communicate immediately with your customers, rather than disappointing them and having to rationalize the reasons after the fact. Work with your customers to find solutions.
  • Be Responsive/Embody Integrity--Demonstrate purpose and support for your community. Businesses can play a vital role in maintaining strong communities, even in challenging times.
For more consumer and business tips on COVID-19, go to BBB.org/Coronavirus and follow on social media using #BBBDelivers.
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