Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct has hiked prices by more than 50% on some sports equipment on Tuesday in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, according to internal documents seen by the PA news agency.
And another of his Frasers Group retailers, Jack Wills, is forcing staff into stores despite Government advice to stay at home unless you are an “essential” worker, employees told PA.
Frasers had previously tried to claim Sports Direct was an essential operator for keeping the nation fit, but subsequently said it would close stores.
But after a public backlash the stores, along with Evans Cycles, were closed.
However, there are still reports of workers being told to arrive at stores, against Government advice.
In one message sent to staff on Tuesday morning, the company wrote “we will not open our Sports Direct or Evans Stores to the public” and it carries on “please continue to head into work as we have been instructed last night”.
And on Tuesday, Sports Direct also sent a document to staff, seen by PA, which shows the lines that should have price rises applied.
Because the company operates a system of having “ticket” prices, followed by “reduced” stickers, it can be unclear what price a product was ever sold at.
Pricing documents show that an Everlast 4kg kettle bell has gone up from £9.99 to £14.99 – although the sticker will still say the “original” ticket price was £19.99.
The cost of a 12kg kettle bell by Everlast, which is owned by Sports Direct’s parent company Frasers Group, is now £39.99, up from £29.99.
Slazenger, Lonsdale and several other well-known brands are owned by Frasers.
The Competition and Markets Authority, which has told companies not to hike prices, reminded businesses of their responsibilities.
A competition watchdog spokesperson said: “We have already warned all traders not to exploit the current situation through unjustifiable prices.
“Our new Covid-19 taskforce is reviewing evidence of harmful sales or pricing practices, and we will do whatever is required to stop a small minority of businesses that may seek to exploit the present situation.”
The increased prices come as Frasers Group, which includes House of Fraser, Jack Wills, Evans Cycles and Sports Direct, among others, was forced into a U-turn over store openings.
Chris Wootton, chief finance officer of Frasers Group, said its Sports Direct and Evans Cycles stores will not open on Tuesday.
He said in a “clarification” that they will remain shut, despite stating that Government policy “excludes bicycle shops from closure”.
Stores will not reopen until “given the go-ahead by the Government”, he added.
But over at Jack Wills, one member of staff told PA that workers are sitting in stores waiting for instructions.
One said: “We feel like we’re putting ourselves and others at risk by not staying at home like the Government has told us to. I’ve got colleagues feeling frustrated and angry.
“We feel disrespected by Mike Ashley’s decisions to try and keep the company trading. The lack of communication and plan when they knew this was likely is embarrassing.”
The retailer said it is contacting the Government “at all levels” in an attempt to get confirmation from the Prime Minister.
It comes after politicians hit out at the business for its plan to keep stores open after Boris Johnson ordered non-essential shops to close, with Labour Party chairman Ian Lavery telling company majority owner Mike Ashley to “take some responsibility” and “shut up shop”.
The group wrote to all workers within 30 minutes of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to shut down non-essential retailers, telling them its position selling sporting and fitness equipment made it a vital asset during a national shutdown.
In the original letter, Mr Wootton said: “Against the backdrop of the closure of gyms the demand for these types of products has increased exponentially as the population looks to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
“Consequently, we are uniquely well placed to help keep the UK as fit and healthy as possible during this crisis and thus our Sports Direct and Evans Cycles stores will remain open where possible to allow us to do this (in accordance with the Government’s current social distancing guidance).”
Labour MP Jess Phillips also criticised the appeal to keep stores open, tweeting: “Massive mugs notwithstanding there is nothing people cannot live without in Sports Direct.”
Rival retailers such as JD Sports have confirmed that stores will remain shut until Government guidance changes.