Consumer Complaints in Massachusetts Fell in the First Quarter of 2020

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has been active fighting against price gouging during the pandemic emergency. Actually, she was on the case even before the governor issued a stay-at-home order on March 23, 2020. Three days prior to that AG Healey added anti-price gouging regulations to the state regulatory code under emergency powers. She has also issued news releases notifying online marketplaces like Amazon that they were not exempt from the law (see individual letters to online marketplaces here).

There has been the usual relaying of stern warnings by media, and price gouging complaints are making the news. According to WBTS in Boston:

The NBC10 Boston Investigators requested copies of complaints to review some of the situation consumers encountered.

There were items, big and small. Plenty of people complained about grocery prices (like a gallon of milk for $10), toilet paper, cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer. One woman reported the cost of her favorite donut had risen from $1.30 to $3.21.

The story also reports a man complained after buying two rolls of toilet paper on eBay for $14.99.

Perhaps surprisingly, overall consumer complaints filed with the Massachusetts AG’s office are down in the first quarter of 2020, numbering just over 2,700 as compared to a quarterly average of almost 4,000 in the previous three years. Maybe the decline comes with a decline in economic activity?

Online sales are up. Are complaints about online prices up as well?

Sorting through the data posted on the State of Massachusetts website, it appears the number of complaints in 2020 Q1 mentioning Amazon is about the same as it has been over the past few years. Same for eBay complaints. Walmart, at 14 complaints, is just higher than the previous record of 13. Despite public focus of Attorneys General on online marketplaces, at least in Massachusetts the consumer complaint data does not suggest a pandemic-related problem.

Mass AG Consumer Complaints