A home supply retailer has allegedly increased its pricing on cleaning products as a way to capitalize off of the growing panic about the coronavirus in the U.S., according to Michigan's attorney general.

Attorney General Dana Nessel sent the company a cease-and-desist letter Tuesday, after the office received 18 complaints for consumers about face masks, bleach and other products being sold at high prices.

“Investigators from the Attorney General’s office have found that Menards appears to be exploiting public fear about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) through a systematic effort of raising prices,” Nessel’s office said in a release. 

Menards, a privately held chain of home improvement supply stores, is headquartered in Eau Claire, Wis., and operates more than 300 stores across the Midwestern U.S., including in Michigan.

The complaints started last week from buyers throughout Michigan. 

In the letter, Nessel highlighted an instance at the Jackson, Mich., Menards initially listing a 121- ounce container of Clorox brand bleach as $4.47, which appears to be the manufacturer suggested retail price (MSRP) based on similar stores’ shelf prices

Nessel found that at the register, the same 121 ounce container of Clorox bleach was $8.99, double the original MSRP. The letter states that “Here, it appears Menards took affirmative steps to not only grossly elevate the price of the bleach product, but also to give special attention to it at that elevated price.”

The letter also cited that 3M face masks, an item “that consumers now recognize as useful protection of the Coronavirus,” were priced at $39.95 for a pack of two masks. This came with a $20 rebate, but Nessel did not believe that the normal rebate on the 3M masks “was set at the recent level exceeding 50%.”

Ultimately, these constitute unfair trade practices, and violet Michigan’s Consumer Protection Act, Nessel says. 

Speaking with reporters, Nessel condemned the store’s alleged actions.

Large corporations must also play by the rules, and my office will work diligently to ensure this state’s consumers are treated fairly and not abused by businesses seeking to unlawfully jack prices up to line their pockets with profits at the expense of the public during this time of great need,” Nessel told ABC12 News

Menards has not yet responded to Nessel’s allegations as of Tuesday afternoon, reports state. The chain has 10 days to file a response.

This is one of the first reports of a business price-gouging in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. There have been previous reports of private citizens hoarding and selling goods like hand sanitizer for high prices between $8 and $70 online and in person. 

Published on Mar 18, 2020