New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told eBay and Amazon to "stop price gouging" during a theatrical press release on Monday where he introduced hand sanitizer manufactured by the State of New York. His state is seeing a growing number of cases of coronavirus COVID-19.
The Governor said the state's product was superior to products currently on the market (he referred to Purell as a competitor to New York's new sanitizer) and said, "This is also much less expensive than anything government could buy." The state will produce up to 100,000 gallons of hand sanitizer per week and will distribute it to "most impacted and high risk communities and state agencies."
eBay banned the sale of hand sanitizer, masks, and disinfecting wipes on its marketplace on March 5th citing regulatory restrictions - in its announcement, eBay stated: "These listings may violate applicable US laws or regulations, eBay policies, and exhibit unfair pricing behavior for our buyers."
However, a search for hand sanitizer on eBay.com this morning showed active listings, including this one
for "PURELL Advance Refreshing Gel Hand Sanitizer, 8 Fl. Oz., 1 Bottle Various Scent" listed for $29.99. The listing displays a banner from eBay "2,131 viewed per hour" indicating its popularity, and the listing states: "More than 10 available / 41 sold in 24 hours."
But there's another side of the story - some believe sellers should be allowed to sell items at whatever the price the market will bear.
One reader frustrated at the ban by eBay said, "The manufacturers of the face masks have raised prices 10 to 15 times the normal. And dealers like me have bought them to resale like normal and get them out to people who need and want them."
He said he has been selling medical grade face masks since 2003. "I sell medical and dental equipment and supplies. And to have eBay tell me I can't sale something that I bought to resale in my day to day business as a medical dental supplier Is BS! And then to see eBay purposely trying to force you to lower your prices to stay listed on their website I think is against fair business practices of California business and professions code."
He's also skeptical about what he has been told regarding the ban. "eBay has told me that they got an order from the Government not to let merchant's sale the masks on eBay. When I ask for a copy, they say they can not give it to me."
He also said it was ironic that eBay and Amazon were forcing off merchants like him that have been around and are charging a decent price for the masks, which could lead to people who need them not getting them. "I have had people on eBay tell me they need the masks for their family member who has a low immune system and needs the masks to wear everyday like before the Corona Virus. But now they can't get them. The more you take the masks off the market the higher the demand is going to be."
Sellers commenting on the EcommerceBytes Blog
were divided about eBay's policy, including some nuanced opinions, such as the one from a seller who wrote, "Banning the masks I understand, but personally don't consider hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes a necessity. Regular soap and water works just fine and in some cases even better than hand sanitizer. Bleach or vinegar and a rag are just as effective surface cleaners, the wipes are simply a convenience."
The move by a government entity to produce products for its own use seems unusual, especially given the fact New York State is using prisoners to manufacture the product, according to Quartz
This excerpt of the transcript
of the Governor's presentation shows where he called out Amazon and eBay alleging price gouging:
"Also to Purell and Mr. Amazon and Mr. eBay, if you continue the price gouging we will introduce our product which is superior to your product and you don't even have the floral bouquet so stop price gouging. This is also much less expensive than anything government could buy. Just to give you an idea, a gallon bottle is $6.10. The seven-ounce bottle is $1.12, our cost, and then there is a very small size, here it is, which is 84 cents, so it's cheaper for us to make it ourselves than to buy it on the open market.
The medical supplier who sells on eBay had much to say, and we'll end this post with some of his thoughts - tell us what you think in the comments below:
"Look back at Russia during the cold war. People had to stand in line to get toilet paper. That was because the government wanted to control everything.
"If the outcome that these politicians want is for the prices to go down. Then they need to un restrict the market and prices will come down naturally. They do need to push the manufacturers that are here in the US to produce more also.
"But the more you restrict the masks the higher prices you will see and they will be scarcer then before. Not allowing the citizens of America a chance to buy what they want to spend their money on to protect their family is Un American!"
Update 3/11/2020: The Altantic talked to some sellers, it's fascinating to hear them share their thoughts.