Coronavirus tips: Price gouging, hoarding, good deals for shoppers

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Consumers are grappling with price gouging, hoarding and finding deals during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Grocery stores can be intimidating, and many are not able to keep up with demand for disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer and toilet paper. Experts emphasize you can help the issue by not hoarding and not letting high-priced items scare you into buying.

Charging $14.99 for Lysol, almost $20 for just over 2 lbs. of ground beef, and $6 for a standard container of bleach are some examples of what people may call price gouging, Others say the higher prices are based on demand.

"Its very easy to feel powerless right now," said DealNews.com Consumer Analyst Michael Bonebright.

Bonebright and other consumer experts said if you see these high prices, your first move should be to take a breath and walk away. Don't let higher prices make you think there is an urgency to buy. You can go to another store. Also, don't panic if you see some empty shelves.

"People tend to be scared when the shelves are empty or look empty. This is an opportunity to try new foods and steer away from things that are popular, get a generic brand or new cuisine," he said.

The ABC 7 I-Team found several barren shelves in stores and witnessed overstuffed carts. However, according to DealNews.com experts, the nations' major retailers are restocking store shelves so there is no need to hoard.

"I would strongly urge people not to hoard supplies right now," said Bonebright. "If you are one of those people living in a larger city and used to going to the store every day then it makes sense to pick up a week's worth of goods while you are there."

Plus, more stores are issuing limits on what you can buy. You may have seen signs posted on shelves.

While disinfectant and toilet paper may still be challenging to find, the I-Team found that there is plenty of toilet paper available on eBay.
"If you are about to go to the store buy things as you normally would, buy one or two weeks' worth of groceries," Bonebright said. "Stick to things that are more perishable because they are more likely to be on sale and just try to shop as you normally would. It can feel easy to panic and say 'Oh my goodness, I need 700 cans of beans.' Well, if you buy all of those things, other people won't be able to buy them. So try to be a good citizen and only purchase the things you need for the next one or two weeks."

Bonebright said there are good deals to be found right now on lunch meats and other perishables, as consumers focus on buying canned goods and other non-perishable items. DealNews.com is also finding plenty of availability and low prices for over the counter medications.

He added that If you see gouging, speak up.

"If you feel like you've been a victim of price gouging you should report it to your state's attorney general's office. However, it is worth noting that there is no federal law against price gouging. In some states it's perfectly legal, in other states its only applied if a state of emergency is declared," he said.

City of Chicago and state investigators are enforcing local laws and investigating complaints. In March, the city received 190 gouging complaints. The Illinois Attorney General's Office said it's gotten 526 complaints.

"The normal process is we have access to filing an action under the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Practices Act," said Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul. "It empowers the attorney general to go after business that have unfair practices on consumers."

If you see high prices or possible gouging you should report them to your state's attorney general office or call your local village or city. In Chicago, it's the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.
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