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Coronavirus causing sales jumps, online price gouging


The coronavirus (COVID-19) is affecting consumer behavior and creating problems on third-party marketplaces.

According to data from omnichannel commerce platform Bloomreach, during the week of Feb. 23-29, revenue sales for masks increased 590% from the week prior. Other products receiving substantial week-over-week bumps in revenue sales included hand sanitizers (420%), Clorox/Lysol wipes (184%), canned food (183%), disinfectants (178%), bottled/packaged water (78%), hand soap (33%), and toilet paper/paper towel (26%).

Bloomreach pulled this global sales data (with a strong U.S. showing) from its customer base, which includes 250-plus retailers. 

In addition, a recent survey from First Insight demonstrates consumers are changing some shopping behaviors as a result of the coronavirus, with generational variations. Overall, 35% of respondents have cut back on spending in preparation for the impact of the coronavirus, with millennials (40%) and Gen Z (41%) cutting back the most compared to baby boomers (23%) and Gen X (36%).

A little more than one in five (22%) of respondents say they are buying more products in anticipation of the spread of the virus, with grocery leading as the top product consumers are buying more of (19%). This is followed by household products and personal care items at 13%, health products at 12%, and beauty products at 7%.

About three in 10 (29%) of respondents say they are taking advantage of BOPIS services and curbside (18%) pickup to get products without going in-store. By generation, Gen Z leads in taking advantage of BOPIS (47%) with millennials favoring curbside pickup (30%).

Furthermore, as result of the coronavirus, 21% of respondents say they are shopping more frequently online. Roughly half (49%) of respondents say that due to the coronavirus outbreak, they are concerned about receiving apparel or other products that were produced in impacted areas such as China.

With a virus-related surge in demand for products such as cleaning supplies and hand sanitizers, perhaps it is not surprising that the Wall Street Journal reports third-party marketplaces operated by retailers such as Amazon and Walmart face sellers charging unreasonable prices for these items.

Amazon has reportedly been removing tens of thousands of overpriced products from its marketplace and is also taking action against third-party sellers who make false or unsubstantiated claims about a product’s ability to counteract the coronavirus. According to the Journal, as recently as Wednesday, March 5 Amazon Marketplace featured products such as containers of disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer for up to five or six times normal cost. 

“There is no place for false claims and price gouging on Amazon,” Dharmesh Mehta, Amazon’s VP of worldwide customer trust and partner support, is quoted as saying at a March 5 consumer-protection hearing in Washington, D.C.

In addition, the Journal reports online marketplaces run by Walmart, eBay, and Facebook have all been experiencing third-party sellers ratcheting up prices on virus-related items. Chain Store Age has reached out to Walmart for comment.

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