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Coronavirus

$348 for hand sanitizer? Amazon is blocking vendors trying to capitalize on coronavirus demand

Jacked up products still show up, but consumers can’t buy them.

Third-party sellers on Amazon are continuing to ask for more and more money for in-demand hand sanitizer as stock nationwide dwindles and demand increases as coronavirus spreads.

But the company, to its credit, appears to be managing the issue as quickly as possible. Several products with prices jacked up well-beyond market value still appear on the company’s website, but links to purchase them have been removed in an effort to protect consumers.

Florida Politics reported Monday that prices on hand sanitizer sold by third-party vendors on Amazon were significantly higher than pre-virus retail levels.

In a statement Monday responding to questions about their policy on price gouging vendors, Amazon wrote that they “have recently blocked tens of thousands of offers” and that the company would “continue to actively monitor our store and remove offers that violate our policies.”

The company referenced its marketplace fair pricing policy, which states that if the company sees “pricing practices on a marketplace offer that harms customer trust, Amazon can remove the Buy Box, remove the offer, suspend the ship option, or, in serious or repeated cases,” suspend or terminate selling privileges.

Despite Amazon blocking sales for unfairly priced products, third-party vendors have continued to try to list them with prices even higher than the day before.

In one particularly egregious example, a four-pack of Purell advanced hand sanitizer gel in 1200mL bottles (about 40 ounces) was listed for $348. Other products, which usually sell for just a few dollars each, had prices hiked up to, in some cases, more than 500% market value. Most of the products were not available for sale on the website despite vendor attempts to hock them.

When the continued price gouging was brought to Amazon’s attention along with screenshots of the offending products and their listed prices, Florida Politics asked: “With the problem still clearly prevalent, is the company going to up its efforts? Have any products been removed so far? If so, which items and how many?”

A spokesperson responded that Amazon would not share “examples of offers we’ve pulled down,” but a review of products on its site showed the company did an overall good job of removing options to purchase overly-priced sanitizing products.

“There is no place for price gouging on Amazon. We are disappointed that bad actors are attempting to artificially raise prices on basic need products during a global health crisis and, in line with our long-standing policy, have recently blocked or removed tens of thousands of offers. We continue to actively monitor our store and remove offers that violate our policies,” the company offered Monday.

Hand sanitizer has been in high demand since the COVID-19 virus began its rapid spread into dozens of countries including the U.S. and, now, Florida.

Health officials have been telling concerned citizens that the best way to protect themselves from the virus is to utilize proper hand washing techniques and, when washing is not an option, to utilize alcohol-based hand sanitizers to kill germs.

That makes hand sanitizer one of the most effective tools in preventing the virus’ spread and has led to nationwide shortages of the product on shelves.

Hand sanitizers offered directly through Amazon and not third party sellers are virtually unavailable, leaving third-party sellers with a cornered market.

While Amazon appears to be keeping up with bad actors on its platform, the state of Florida is willing to step in on cases that aren’t effectively managed.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office, which is tasked with monitoring and reviewing price gouging complaints in the state, offered a strong caution to companies seeking to reap financial rewards on the back of a global health crisis.

“We continue to review all complaints related to the coronavirus and will pursue any we find actionable. With respect to products, manufacturers and sellers should be forewarned that our office will aggressively pursue any misleading marketing regarding health claims or scams during this public health emergency,” an agency spokesperson wrote in a comment Monday.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at Janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

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