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Verona, Ont., video leads to concerns about toilet paper price-gouging during COVID-19 pandemic

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WATCH: A video shared thousands of times on Facebook shows a woman claiming a convenience store is gouging customers. However, the owner claims the woman purposely tried to make the store appear as though it had overpriced a product – Mar 18, 2020

A video shared thousands of times on Facebook shows a woman accusing a convenience store in Verona, Ont., of price-gouging its toilet paper, however the store owner claims the woman purposefully tried to fake a higher price for the product.

The dispute comes as the COVID-19 pandemic has caused shoppers to stock up on food and toiletries, especially toilet paper. Despite the fear felt among Canadians, the Ontario government has called for calm amid reports of pandemic-related panic-buying in grocery stores,

The video shows Suzanne Steele walking into the new Toppers Market along Highway 38, where the video was taken, to check its toilet paper prices.

After looking at the price of a 30 pack of toilet paper, she asks the cashier: “How much?”

The cashier says it will be $34.99. Steele responds, saying she is not paying that much for toilet paper.

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Global News visited the convenience store to check its prices for toilet paper. There was no sticker on a package of 30 rolls, but the price came up to $27.11 at the cash register.

“I don’t feel that $30 is the regular price of toilet paper anywhere,” Steele said.

READ MORE: Hand sanitizer hoarder under investigation after trying to sell bottles for $70 each

The owner of the store, Alex Amiri, told Global News he hasn’t raised prices. Amiri also claims the price sticker may have been switched and says he’s looking at surveillance footage.

Steele still believes the toilet paper was overpriced.

“I didn’t go out of my way to target them,” she said. “I was in the store the night before buying coffee, and my daughter needed toilet paper, so we went over to price it, and that night they said it was $34.99.”

The average price of toilet paper seems to range from $5 to $30, depending on the size of the package. On Wednesday, Global News compared the prices at New Toppers with prices at other local convenience stores.

The New Merry Market at Barrie and Earl streets charges around $7 for a pack of six rolls. Circle K on Montreal Street is selling four rolls for $5. Thirty rolls in both stores would cost at least $35.

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Online retail websites like Kijiji and Amazon have been cracking down on price-gouging since ads began to appear online showing overpriced toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Do Canadians really need to stockpile household items?

Queen’s University marketing professor and expert Ken Wong said that although it’s not clear if price-gouging occurred in this case, it’s more than likely that panic over toilet paper shortages would cause price-gouging in smaller retailers, rather than large companies.

Large retailers have to play the game for the long-term trend, and price-gouging at a time like this … no large chain would want any part of that,” Wong said.

He recalled the ice storm that hit eastern Ontario back in 1998, noting that at the time, smaller stores raised prices on essential items like batteries and other goods.

“Frankly, those businesses paid the price later on,” he explained.

Wong said it’s possible the retailer may have increased the price because it was having a hard time stocking toilet paper due to high demand, but he added that price changes should always be explained to customers.

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“You never change your price without an explanation, so if you’re going to raise your price that much — and again, I’m not saying that they did — but if you were and the reason was that you were being pushed by higher costs from your supplier then, of course, you should be saying that,” he said.

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The most important advice Wong had for retailers and consumers during the pandemic was to remember that the relationship between shopper and retailer has to last beyond the next few weeks, and concessions might need to be made during the hardest times.

“This might be a time when we expect business to maybe have a little less price hunger, and consumers, similarly, you may have to pay a couple of pennies more to keep the businesses around that really served you well in the past and that you want to serve you well in the future.