E-commerce Platforms Prohibit Mask Price Rise as Outbreak Leads to Shortages
The e-commerce players in China tried to control the market since the deadly SARS-like virus is swiping China while some vendors have hiked the price of face mask online to 10 times its original price.
China’s Spring Festival in 2020 will inevitably start in a layer of haze. At the time of this writing, the Wuhan coronavirus has killed 17 people and infected more than 630.
To protect against pneumonia, Chinese consumers are swarming to pharmacies for the N95 (a medical mask that can protect people from breathing during this outbreak) face mask. At the same time, the surge in demand has emptied face mask inventories of some vendors on e-commerce platforms, including Taobao and JD, two of the biggest players in China.
Prices for face masks have surged, some vendors on the country’s e-commerce site have increased the price of the N95 masks - which is made by US company 3M and particularly popular in China - from CNY 99 a box to nearly CNY 1,000 a box, Beijing Evening News said.
As many merchants deliberately pushed up the price of masks and took the opportunity to make a considerable profit, many online platforms issued claims that they would not allow online merchants to increase their sales. As of now, platforms such as Taobao, JD.com, Pinduoduo, Suning.com, and Ele.me have issued notices one after another, prohibiting platform merchants from selling masks at price increases.
On the evening of the January 21, Ele.me made an official statement on Weibo (China’s Tweeter), stating that the platform firmly opposed to the price increase of N95 masks, and will continue to intervene for merchants whose price jumped too much over the market prices. While having difficulty to replenish the stock, Ele.me is working with the merchants to make the best efforts to ensure the supply of the good. The company is calling on all the merchants on the platform to jointly commit to ‘selling protective products at a fair price.’
Not long after, Taobao (the e-commerce arm under Alibaba) also made a statement on its official blog: “We have sent notifications to all merchants selling masks on the Taobao and Tmall platform to forbid price increases. At present, our platform has a sufficient supply of masks. Meanwhile, Taobao offers a special subsidy for masks to ensure that consumers can buy affordable, qualitative and authentic masks.”
On the morning of January 22, JD.com said that the demand for protective products such as masks had surged dramatically. It was actively working to ensure supply and price stability in terms of product sources, logistics and platform control. While fully guaranteeing the stability of the price of JD.com’s self-operated products, the company also strictly controls the third-party merchants from selling sky-high price masks. Once confirmed that the third-party commodity prices have abnormally increased, it will be immediately taken off the shelf and receive punishment as the illegal merchants accordingly.
“Regular surgical masks can prevent most viruses from traveling on droplets from entering respiratory systems,” said Zhong Nanshan, leader of a high-level expert team investigating the pneumonia outbreak. “People do not have to stick to the N95 mask that is mainly used to protect users from dust and air pollution.”