DATCP has received 34 price gouging complaints, including 7 against Menards

Last updated on March 2nd, 2021 at 09:59 am

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection has received 34 price gouging complaints as consumers seek to stock up on products during the coronavirus outbreak, according to a department spokeswoman.

Gov. Tony Evers issued an executive order on March 12 declaring a health emergency in response to the virus outbreak. The order also allowed DATCP to enforce prohibitions on price gouging during emergencies.

State law prevents wholesale and retail companies from selling consumer goods or services “at unreasonably excessive prices” when the governor declares a period of abnormal economic disruption exists.

“Often, when demand for specific products is extremely high, or supplies are limited, prices will rise. This can be frustrating, and consumers may feel like they are being taken advantage of,” the department said in a release last week.

Typically, sellers are not allowed to charge more than 15% above the highest price they had in the 60-day period before the emergency declaration. State law allows the department to either issue a warning to the seller or seek up to a $10,000 fine.

Ti Gauger, public information officer at DATCP, said as of 9 a.m. Wednesday the department had received 34 complaints about price gouging in the state. She said seven of those were regarding Eau Claire-based home improvement chain Menard Inc., including five received before Evers issued his order.

Menards did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Gauger noted each complaint is evaluated to determine if further investigation is needed. None of the complaints received by DATCP have reached the point of enforcement, she said.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel on Tuesday sent a cease and desist letter to Menards, accusing the company of illegally increasing prices on cleaning products and face masks.

The letter includes an affidavit from a customer who says an employee at the South Haven, Michigan store told him to take the display price sign for a gallon of bleach to the register with him because she “had been ordered to double any product that had anything to do with sanitation due to the current coronavirus outbreak.”

The affidavit says the gallon of bleach initially rang up at $4.99 but employees honored the original $2.54 price when he showed them the sign.

The letter also says attorney general investigators found Menards was selling a two-pack of facemasks for $39.95 with a $20 rebate.

“As Menards is popularly known for its 11 percent rebate program, we are highly skeptical that the normal, pre-coronavirus rebate on these masks was set at the recent level exceeding 50%,” the letter says. “Further, since Menards’ rebates generally come in the form of a store voucher, it appears these masks have been used to drive additional purchases at Menards by tying their purchase to a voucher that commits consumers to more purchases at Menards.”

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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