Price gouging is up over the past week as communities across North America react to COVID-19 (coronavirus), according to the Better Business Bureau.
BBB has seen an increase in complaints from consumers about price gouging for critical items such as bottled water, hand sanitizer, face masks, and food supplies as “social distancing” restrictions go to effect in many locations. Consumers are urged to report price gouging to BBB.org, FTC.gov, or your state’s consumer protection office. BBB will follow up with companies that have inflated prices in the wake of the crisis and will work with attorneys general and other appropriate agencies to address particularly egregious cases.
Although the legal definition of price gouging varies by jurisdiction, BBB says raising prices to an unreasonable extent beyond a business’s own 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 it 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.
BBB would also like to remind consumers to support local businesses. When emergencies happen, large corporations often have the resources to weather financial or economic uncertainties. Your local businesses may not. Invest in your community’s small businesses by continuing to shop with them. You can do so by purchasing gift cards to be used at a later date or given as gifts; keep scheduled services that can be safely completed; order take-out, delivery or curbside service from local restaurants; and tip higher than normal, when you can.
For more consumer and business tips on this topic, go to BBB.org/Coronavirus.
Kelvin Collins is president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving the Fall Line Corridor, serving 77 counties in East Alabama, West Georgia, Southwest Georgia, Central Georgia, East Georgia and Western South Carolina. This tips column is provided through the local BBB and the International Association of Better Business Bureaus (IABBB). The Better Business Bureau sets standards for ethical business behavior, monitors compliance and helps consumers identify trustworthy businesses. Questions or complaints about a specific company or charity should be referred directly to the BBB at Phone: 1-800-763-4222, Website: BBB.org or email: email@example.com