Besides the health concerns posed by the spread of coronavirus, a new concern is also spreading with it. Vendors who sell hand sanitizers and other preventive commodities like face masks on e-commerce platforms are taking advantage of the panic to inflate prices of those items and cash out in the process.
Some have gone as far as making unfounded claims about the products they listed and what their health benefits were. In addition, new and usually fake brands of sanitizers, face masks and other preventive items have cropped up in their numbers in response to demands of customers and the general panic surrounding the pandemic.
Tech companies that have seen an upsurge of these happenings include Jumia, eBay, Amazon and Facebook.
What are tech companies doing to combat this?
While there are set laws in each country that seek to regulate pricing of goods and services and prevent exploitation, some e-commerce companies have adopted a more particular approach to the situation.
eBay, for instance, shared an update with its vendors that it was going to block items that were tagged in relation to the coronavirus because some of the listings violated the company’s policies or the state’s laws by exhibiting unfair pricing.
Effective immediately, eBay will block new listings and start to remove listings that sell masks including N95/N100 and surgical masks, hand Sanitizer/Gel, disinfecting WipeseBay
Facebook equally announced a ban on ads that promoted health products including face masks and sanitizers, with the promise of preventing people from ‘contracting’ the virus. According to the company, it is stopping the ads in order to prevent users from being exploited using fake or overly expensive items.
While Facebook’s ads monitoring positively affects Nigerians who have accounts on the social media platform, another company that brings this home directly is Jumia.
As of March 9, 2020, Jumia had delisted 390 health and hygiene products in the category of face masks, hand sanitizers and gels whose prices had been outrageously increased due to the outbreak. The products belong to 168 sellers in the country.
Does that mean we can no longer order for sanitizers on Jumia?
While Jumia has banned sales of these items for the good of Nigerians, it also realises the need for some of the products, like hand sanitizers. As such, the e-commerce giant says it has partnered with a company that manufactures sanitizers across Africa called Reckitt Benckiser.
Reckitt Benckiser Group is a British consumer goods company formed in 1999. The company produces health, hygiene and home products. It has offices in Agbara and Yaba in Lagos.
According to Jumia, this partnership, among other benefits, will help ensure that the necessary items are listed and available at better prices for Nigerians.
We have also partnered with Reckitt Benckiser across Africa (manufacturer of sanitisers) to reduce the prices of their products on our site while we take 0% commission on all their sanitizer sold on our siteJumia
We can’t ascertain if this single company can supply enough hand sanitizer for Jumia customers in case of an actual outbreak in Nigeria. But the move is, however, a welcome one and merchants who wish to have their products listed on the platform would know better than inflate their prices.
Controlling the chances of people taking unfair advantage of outbreaks in relation to business can be a long stretch. But when it takes place on tech-enabled platforms with policies that regulate who supples what and for how much, then ensuring that others are not exploited can be possible as these e-Commerce platforms have shown.