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Despite Amazon promise to crack down, coronavirus price-gougers are flourishing

1 month ago by Joshua Fruhlinger in Big Tech, Consumer, Retail

As the coronavirus makes its way around the world with still-unknown consequences, opportunistic Amazon marketplace vendors continue to list products with the term "N95" into the mix with inflated prices. Just last week, the number of "N95 respirators" jumped from just 1 to 38 overnight on the e-commerce platform.

As of today, that number is 85. There are scores more of these products flooding the marketplace, but the number we're seeing here is for items that are hitting Amazon's top-100 sales ranks. In other words, people are buying them up as quickly as they become available.

It's come to light from both experts and the CDC themselves that normal face masks do nothing to protect against coronavirus (and can even make things worse since they collect matter), but N95 respirators — face sealing masks that have been determined to be effective against filtering the virus — can. Once word of this got out, Amazon sold out of N95 respirators, and dozens of vendors posted products.

The thing is, most of the products are not currently available, and those that are are of questionable quality or authenticity.

While most of the N95 respirators aren't even available, it's unlikely that those that are (none were available at the time of this story's publishing) would be used properly by unassuming Amazon shoppers. That's because proper use of an N95 respirator requires very specific training to assure that the seal is complete and removal is done in a way that doesn't end up contaminating the user.

Amazon has reportedly been blocking and removing products from its marketplace in response to price gouging, but the sales rank data here — and diversity of products — shows that the problem is anything but under control.

In short, what's happening at Amazon is a combination of fear and opportunism. Buyer beware.

About the Data:

Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online - jobs, social and web traffic, product sales and app ratings - and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales. 

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Joshua Fruhlinger

Joshua has been writing about technology, lifestyle, and business for over 20 years. He's one of the original writers and editors for Engadget, and still writes a...

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