Michigan AG sends cease and desist letter to Menards over price gouging complaints

EAU CLAIRE -- The Michigan attorney general on Wednesday, March 18 issued a cease and desist letter to Eau Claire-based Menards following the receipt of 18 complaints from consumers about face masks, bleach, and other products being sold at high prices.

According to a news release, investigators from the AG’s office found that Menards "appears to be exploiting public fear about the coronavirus through a systematic effort of raising prices." Investigators discovered during the second week of March, prices for cleaning products like bleach had doubled, and the price of face masks was raised significantly as Menards tied the purchase to an in-store rebate.

The release said the first complaint came from a customer at a store in South Haven, Michigan.

“Big box stores are not immune to the Michigan Consumer Protection Act or the Governor’s Executive Order,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said in the release. “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.”

The release noted 10 days for Menards officials to respond to the letter or the Michigan AG’s office will further investigate the matter and potentially take legal action.

Menards and the state could also agree to an assurance of voluntary compliance.

The release noted as of late Wednesday morning the Michigan AG's office had received 363 complaints -- with nearly 80% submitted since Friday afternoon, March 13.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order Sunday, March 15 to specifically address price-gouging related to COVID-19, stating that no business or person can sell products grossly in excess of the purchase price at which they bought the product, and no products can be sold or offered at a price that’s more than 20% higher than what it was listed as of March 9 -- unless the seller can justify the higher price due to an increase in the cost of bringing the product to market.

Meanwhile, legislation introduced in the Michigan Senate would create additional tools for investigators to rein in price-gouging.

For the first time in Wisconsin history, a law against price gouging was triggered on March 12 — when Gov. Tony Evers declared a public health emergency.

To report suspected price gouging in Wisconsin, you are urged to contact DATCP’s Consumer Protection Hotline at DATCPHotline@wisconsin.gov or 800-422-7128 or file an online complaint. You must provide the following information: