Amazon restricts sales of face masks and hand sanitizer due to coronavirus price gouging

Amazon has begun restricting the types of sellers on its third-party Marketplace platform that can sell health and sanitation products like face masks, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes and sprays, and isopropyl alcohol, among other products. The decision, revealed in a note sent to sellers on Wednesday and reviewed by The Verge, is a notable escalation in Amazon’s fight against price gouging and deceptive marketing on its e-commerce platform due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

“You are receiving this message because you are currently selling, or have previously sold, products such as disposable face masks, hand sanitizers, disinfecting wipes/sprays, isopropyl alcohol or related products,” the message reads. “We have implemented more stringent requirements to sell these products in our store and as a result, your offers have been removed. We are not accepting applications to sell these products at this time.”

Amazon says that remaining inventory of these products in its fulfillment centers are eligible for reimbursement of the return or disposal fees, but sellers will have to create a so-called removal order to get that processed. The window for reimbursement starts today and lasts until May 31st, 2020. Amazon is also telling sellers that they can contact its seller support line if they feel they’re being improperly targeted under the new policy.

It’s unclear what criteria the company is using to allow third-party sellers to offer these products, but it sounds as if Amazon is closing all applications for new listings and will only allow existing sellers who haven’t run afoul of its fair pricing policy to continue selling these items. Searches on its platform right now return plenty of results for hand sanitizer and face masks, but all appear appropriately priced and a vast majority are eligible for Prime shipping. This is a drastic improvement from a few weeks ago, when Amazon found itself overrun with exorbitantly overpriced listings for these items that were three to four times the regular price with shipping amounts vastly exceeding Amazon’s standards. Amazon declined to comment further on the policy change.

Amazon has in recent weeks begun cracking down on coronavirus-related abuse on its platform. The company has removed millions of products for making false coronavirus claims, and it’s also begun removing hundreds of thousands of listings over price gouging and banning sellers who jacked up prices on health items like face masks and hand sanitizer to try and capitalize on the surge in consumer demand.

Yet the company still found itself in the crosshairs of Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), who called on Amazon last week to be more proactive and transparent about its response to the situation. Markey later praised Amazon’s willingness to work with the government on the issue after receiving a response; the company is now working with state attorneys general to prosecute price gougers and began ramping up its enforcement, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Now, Amazon is going one step further and adopting a more aggressive stance by simply restricting who can sell these types of items to avoid having to constantly review a deluge of new, potentially deceptive listings. eBay banned face mask and hand sanitizer listings last week amid similar price gouging on its platform.

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