Retailers given chance to explain lockdown price hikes

The Competition Commission says it is prioritising the investigation of cases of overpricing of essential goods by certain retailers during the lockdown period, and businesses have been given a chance to respond to the allegations.

Nearly 250 cases are being looked into, after they were brought to the attention of the Commission by consumers across the country.

“The majority of the complaints related to hand sanitisers and face masks, followed by toilet paper, flu medication and other products,” the Pretoria-based organisation said adding it was prioritising the cases which also involve suppliers.

“The complaints are under expedited preliminary investigations, with respondent firms given 48 hours to confirm or rebut the allegations.”

Some Spar, Makro and Pick ‘n Pay supermarkets have been named in probes relating to price gouging, and the Commission said on Tuesday it had issued over 100 letters to retailers to confirm or rebut the allegations brought against them within 48 hours. 

Responses provided by retailers to justify price hikes stated that there had been differences between December and January promotional pricing and the pricing had reverted back to normal in February, coinciding with the pandemic. 

“There are, however, instances where price increases are not justified and the Commission will pursue enforcement,” the Commission said.   

The Competition Commission said it was working closely with the National Consumer Commission to streamline investigations in order to minimise duplication.

Government last week put price-controls on essentials such as hand sanitisers, masks and toilet paper during the coronavirus outbreak.

Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel has described cases of price hikes of essential goods as unjustifiable, vowing that transgressors would be pursued.

Compiled by Sibongile Khumalo

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