Amazon is warning third-party sellers on its Marketplace platform against exorbitant price hikes to face masks amid the coronavirus outbreak that continues to expand across the globe, Wired reports.
The company demands Marketplace sellers abide by its Fair Pricing Policy, a rule set to protect against “pricing practices that harm customer trust” that dictates that you may not set “a price on a product or service that is significantly higher than recent prices offered on or off Amazon.” Yet, due to the coronavirus, the demand for face masks has skyrocketed, leading some sellers to raise prices in response.
Wired reports that prices for some of the most popular options for medical face masks have tripled and, in some cases, even quadrupled. The No. 1 bestseller listing for the category, a pack of 100 face masks sold by a company called Kidirt, is listed at $14.99 with $4.99 shipping, as it does not appear to qualify for Prime. Wired says that’s four times what the product cost a few weeks ago, citing data from Amazon price tracker Keepa.
More expensive and effective face masks, like N95 respirator masks, are also getting price gouged, Wired reports. Products by 3M, one of the most popular manufacturers of such masks, and Honeywell are seeing quadrupling prices, from around $15 to more than $60 for packs of 20. Wired says both 3M and Honeywell are not involved in any way, but neither can the companies control the pricing set by third-party sellers that may buy the masks wholesale and resell them on Amazon.
Amazon, however, can do something about the prices. The company has warned some sellers, it seems, but it has yet to hand out platform bans. Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Wired reports that Amazon’s pricing policy most often comes into effect during the holiday season for in-demand items like popular toys, and price gouging during emergency situations or global health crises, like the coronavirus, is not a typical situation for the e-commerce platform.
Yet, the company did become the center of a price gouging controversy during Hurricane Irma in 2017, when prices for bottled water jumped significantly. Most US states have laws on the books that penalize merchants with steep fines and, in some cases, jail time for price gouging products like water and medical supplies during disasters and emergency situations.