Accused price gouger: $60 Purell bottle was an ‘accident’

Coronavirus

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (WOOD) — A business owner whose Twitter post advertised $60 hand sanitizer says it was all an accident.

“They were priced accidentally wrong online,” said Anthony Marshall, owner of A.M. Cleaning and Supplies in Ann Arbor.

Marshall’s tweet advertising bottles of Purell for $20, $40 and $60 – or $5 per gram – spread quickly, prompting a barrage of angry reactions online.

Michigan’s Attorney General received nine complaints about the posted price from people across the country.

“We never sold any Purells for that price,” insisted Marshall when Target 8 investigators paid a visit Friday to the strip mall store on Washtenaw Avenue in Ann Arbor.

“That was a joke photo,” said another employee who refused to share her name.

“It was not meant to be posted on Twitter. We are very sorry about that,” said the woman.

She went on to explain that the $20, $40 and $60 price tags were left over from other products in the store.

“Some toilet paper dispensers that we had on the shelf. We were moving stuff around to make room for the hand sanitizer. We didn’t move the price tags yet and thought, ‘hahaha, wouldn’t that be funny?,’” said the woman, referring to taking a picture of Purell bottles with inflated price tags.

The prices on the containers, which were four, eight and 12 ounces, were later changed back to $2.50, $5 and $7.50, which Michigan’s Attorney General’s office noted in the cease and desist letter it sent the store on March 11.

“Subsequent to this posting, it is apparent that you withdrew the advertisement, presumably because of the negative reaction it generated,” wrote an assistant attorney general with the AG’s Corporate Oversight Division, which includes the Consumer Protection Bureau.

“Given the well-known fears surrounding Coronavirus, it is apparent your store was seeking to position itself to profit from an evolving public health emergency… We see today a new posting on your website walking back the Twitter advertisement as a mistake. We perceive this means there is regret; now we want to work with you on appropriate redress.”

What, if any, civil penalty the business may face depends on the findings of the ongoing investigation.

Under the Michigan Consumer Protection Act, a business that commits a “persistent and knowing violation” by charging “grossly in excess” of the normal price of an item can face fines up to $25,000.

The letter from the attorney general’s office also questioned a GoFundMe page set up by A.M. Cleaning and Supplies in which it sought donations to help keep prices low.

“We are skeptical about the propriety of seeking donations to support your for-profit business in this effort,” continued the letter.

When asked about the GoFundMe page Friday morning, the female employee told Target 8 “anybody can have a GoFundMe.”

Michigan’s Attorney General said it’s received 75 price-gouging complaints related to COVID-19.

The office has contacted four businesses directly, including the Ann Arbor cleaning supply store, two grocery stores in Dearborn and Farmington Hills, and a West Michigan hardware store.

The AG is still investigating the Allendale store that was selling individual dust masks in Ziploc baggies for $9.99 apiece.

On Wednesday, a package of bills was introduced in the State Senate to toughen penalties for price-gouging during emergencies.

The bills would increase civil fines, make the practice a criminal misdemeanor and further clarify what constitutes price-gouging.

Under the bills, if a business charges a price ten percent higher than what the price was before the emergency, it could trigger an investigation by the attorney general.

Unless the business could prove the price hike was due to its own increased cost in supplying the product, it could face fines and up to two years in jail.

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