Coronavirus: 'No justification' for price-gouging as Kiwis enter lockdown - Consumer NZ

Retailers are being warned against hiking up prices as the country enters its first day of lockdown. 

As of 11:59pm on Wednesday only essential services are allowed to remain open, with the country now at alert level 4.

The raising of the alert level comes after community transmission of COVID-19 was confirmed by the Government, and it is hoped that by minimising social contact the country can avoid a mass outbreak of the virus, like in Italy. 

So far there have been 205 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand. Four of those are presumed to be caused by community transmission.

However, with Kiwis now forced to self-isolate - allowed to leave the house only to go for a walk or conduct essential chores like buying groceries - there are reports that the few businesses still operating have been capitalising on the situation.

"We have been getting reports from consumers who have been concerned that prices on some goods have spiked," Jessica Wilson, head of research at Consumer New Zealand, told Newshub. 

"These are mainly been around products like hand sanitiser and face masks but we've also been getting complaints about goods in dairies going up as well. And a few complaints about consumers seeing prices in supermarkets - they're concerned that they're paying more than they have previously been."

Newshub has been sent multiple allegations of price-gouging. One supermarket was reportedly selling a loaf of Vogel's bread for $8, while there were also claims a New World store was selling a fresh whole chicken for $30 - around double the normal price.

New World's owner Foodstuffs told Newshub that the price of the chicken was due to a "ticketing error", with someone accidentally charging per kilo rather than per chicken.

Wilson said now more than ever it's "really important for supermarkets to get their pricing correct".

"That's what consumers rely on when they are shopping," she says

"A lot of us are really price-sensitive so there's an onus on supermarkets to ensure that the prices they're presenting to consumers are the right price."

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also weighed in on the subject, issuing a stern warning to any businesses hoping to make a quick buck.

"It is not acceptable to do what they call price-gouging," Ardern said.

"That is not allowed so we will be keeping a very close eye on where we might see those issues." 

She called on supermarkets to "be responsible".

"This is an extraordinary time. We all have to work together to support one another - this is not a time to be thinking about profiteering, it is a time to think about one another."

Coronavirus: 'No justification' for price-gouging as Kiwis enter lockdown - Consumer NZ

Wilson said it's not illegal to hike prices in times like these, but what is against the law is misleading consumers about the reason a price has gone up.

"We don't think there are justifications, and actually, it would be pretty abhorrent if we saw traders taking advantage of the situation to put up prices just to make an extra buck.

"If it is a genuine case of demand they would have to be able to substantiate that - they can't just make blanket statements about why prices have risen. Those reasons need to be genuine and they can't risk misleading their customers."

Wilson said the main complaints Consumer has received so far about price spikes were related to online stores.

"We will definitely be keeping a close eye on what's happening over the next couple of weeks and indeed as the lockdown continues to ensure that consumers actually are getting fair prices and are being treated fairly."