Coronavirus price gouging – what went wrong?

A CHOICE analysis has found over 1 in 3 Australians faced more expensive essentials at the height of coronavirus. The consumer advocate has also found freezers were a key item to face steep price rises as lockdowns came into effect.

CHOICE’s Consumer Pulse survey** asked respondents if “the prices for essential goods were generally higher than usual”. 38% of people in New South Wales and 37% in Victoria reported higher prices – with the figures only getting worse from there.

The CHOICE investigations team also found major price rises for freezers around the height of coronavirus price gouging. Comparing data between October 2019 to March 2020, CHOICE analysis found some freezers went up in price as much as 63%.

“The coronavirus triggered some of the biggest shocks to markets and supply we’ve seen in a generation” says Amy Pereira, Campaigns and Policy Advisor at CHOICE. 

“It’s important that we look back at the height of the crisis and assess what went wrong. As CHOICE has investigated business behaviour over this period we’ve seen some inexcusable opportunism, panic marketing and price gouging from retailers across the country. It’s particularly concerning to hear at least one in three Australians felt the impacts of price gouging”

CHOICE found a number of retailers engaging in what it calls “panic marketing” and then failing to deliver on their promises during the crisis.

“As part of our research we’ve spoken to supply chain experts who just can’t see justification for the price increases as high as what we saw in whitegoods like freezers. It’s vital that we look at what happened during this crisis and put protections in place to make sure Australians don’t get exploited again – whether that be through price gouging or panic marketing” says Ms Pereira.

“All states and territories need to update laws for price gouging so our consumer protections are fit for purpose in 2020 and beyond. Price gouging in a crisis should be illegal – state consumer ministers can and should act to stop price hikes in future crises”.

**Nationally representative survey of 1,041 Australian households conducted from the 20th March  to the 29th March 2020. Quotas were applied by age, gender, state, household income and education, to ensure the findings are reflective of the Australian population.

Media contact: Jonathan Brown,, 0430 172 669