Coronavirus: Shoppers urged to compare prices of essential goods before buying after 'shocking' hikes

Money and laptop
Prices of chest freezers and other household goods skyrocketed last month, PriceSpy says. Photo credit: Getty.

As demand for essential goods rises during lockdown, shoppers are urged to compare prices online or risk paying inflated prices.

March figures from product comparison website PriceSpy show the indexed price (based off the cheapest price) for chest freezers went up by 28 percent from March 1 to March 31. The indexed price for webcams went up by 14 percent, heating and cooling by 6 percent and computers and accessories by 5 percent.

As an across-the-board measure of how prices are tracking, the indexed price across 108,000 products listed on the PriceSpy website increased by five percent in March.

Liisa Matinvesi-Bassett, New Zealand country manager for PriceSpy, said historical pricing data shows goods under many shopping categories "skyrocketed" last month. 

"One of the biggest price-hike culprits uncovered this month was chest freezers," she said.

"Our data suggests the overall indexed price rose by a massive 28 percent [from] 1 to 31 March, which is huge," Matinsvesi-Bassett said.

Price comparisons among the most searched products revealed that almost all of the ten most popular chest freezers had gone up during the month. None had gone down in price.

"Shockingly, the findings revealed 90 percent of the top ten most-clicked-on chest freezers cost more to buy on March 31 compared to March 1, before the national COVID-19 alert system was implemented.

"Similarly, over three quarters (80 percent) of the top ten most-clicked-on webcams were more expensive…[and] 70 per cent of the top ten whiteware goods." 

Price comparison chest freezers and webcams 1-31 March
Indexed price increases and decreases on PriceSpy for chest freezers and webcams from March 1 to March 31, 2020. Photo credit: Supplied/PriceSpy.
PriceSpy chest freezer price comparison: Haier HCF-143
According to PriceSpy, the retail price of Monday's most searched chest freezer (Haier HCF-143 - $499 at Smiths City), was $399 on 1 March, $499 from March 16-25 and $629 from March 26 to April 1. Photo credit: Supplied/PriceSpy.

As prices for many essential products increased last month, comparing prices online before buying will help shoppers make best use of their cash and avoid paying too much.

"During such unprecedented times, our advice to consumers who need to make an essential purchase is to be vigilant and conduct price research before they commit," Matinvesi-Bassett said.

Shoppers are encouraged to use PriceSpy to look at price trends and compare retailers before checking their delivery terms during lockdown.

"These are all online prices however [given current times] we suggest people check whether specific retailers are delivering and their terms," a PriceSpy spokesperson added.

Greg Harford, chief executive of Retail NZ, said that some retailers may be facing higher supply costs, which could be reflected in higher prices.

"Freight capacity into New Zealand has been reduced, there are extra costs facing many retailers at the border and, in some cases, supply has been constrained.

"This has meant that, in some cases, special pricing deals that we might have normally seen in the market have not been available," Harford said.

He also said that pre-COVID-19, high market competition gave retailers the incentive to offer deals. In the lockdown environment, not all retailers can operate, there's a range of rules and people aren't shopping in the same way.

"Retail NZ is strongly encouraging Government to think about a risk-based approach to e-commerce, whereby a broader range of retailers should be allowed to sell a broader range of goods to New Zealanders, subject to strict provisions to safeguard against the spread of the virus.  

"A more liberal approach to the contactless delivery of ecommerce transactions would likely lead to more promotional specials being available to consumers," Harford said.

He encourages customers to shop around online before buying essential items.

"It might be that a slightly different product or brand will deliver a similar result at a lower price," Harford added.