eBay is escalating its fight against online price gouging during the coronavirus outbreak with a new outright ban on all sales of face masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes. The new policy, outlined in a notice to sellers posted Friday, applies both to new listings and existing ones. eBay says it is in the process of removing current listings for these items as well as listings that mention the coronavirus, COVID-19 (the illness it causes), and other popular variations of the phrases like 2019nCoV.
“We will continue to monitor the evolving situation and quickly remove any listing that mentions COVID-19, coronavirus, 2019nCoV (except books) in the title or description,” the notice reads. “These listings may violate applicable US laws or regulations, eBay policies, and exhibit unfair pricing behavior for our buyers.”
Since the coronavirus outbreak began spreading worldwide in late January, prices for health items that could help prevent the spread of the virus have seen shocking jumps, especially on websites like Amazon and eBay that allow third-party sellers to list their own products and sell them. In this case, some wholesale resellers or sellers who just happen to have inventory that includes hand sanitizer and certain face masks, like the popular 3M-produced N95 respirator mask, have begun jacking up prices. In many US states, this may be in violation of price gouging laws.
According to CNBC, eBay has already removed more than 20,000 listings for making unsubstantiated claims related to the coronavirus. The company is now taking the more extreme step of banning all sales of items it sees as especially vulnerable to price gouging due to the sharp spikes in demand that are a result of widespread pandemic fears. For more information, eBay is pointing people to its “disaster and tragedy” policy that protects against attempts “to profit from human tragedy or suffering” and its “search manipulation” policy.
Amazon has taken a less drastic approach to its ongoing price gouging problem on its third-party Marketplace platform. The company is rapidly removing listings from offenders who are raising the price of hand sanitizer and face masks to exorbitant levels, but it has yet to institute a ban and it is unclear how many sellers have received suspensions over the practice. Amazon’s more restrained response has landed it in hot water with lawmakers, specifically Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), who sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos earlier this week demanding answers to questions about how the company is conducting its price gouging screening and the actions its taking to reduce the severity of the problem.