Stress and uncertainty can bring out the best and the worst in our society. Anyone out trying to buy toilet paper or disinfectant wipes this past week knows that first hand.
We’ll never know if our local hoarders feel waves of pride or pangs of guilt as they gaze at their TP towers, but it’s nice to see that some business giants have taken the moral high road.
Last week, the Toronto Star interviewed a couple in BC, who made a tidy profit of $30,000 by cleaning out multiple Costcos of disinfectant wipes, and selling them for wildly inflated prices on Amazon. The New York Times found two brothers in Tennessee doing the same, with their stash of 17,000 bottles of hand sanitizer. These weren’t isolated cases – just the tip of an iceberg.
Both stories raised enough eyebrows to make even Amazon take notice. They accepted a financial hit, by denouncing and shutting down these accounts and cracking down on gouging across the platform. Kijiji followed suit, saying they would no longer allow ads selling face masks, disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer and similar items on its site.
There is a place for mark-ups in emergencies. In Quebec’s ice storm, several Ontarians packed up jerry cans of gas, electric generators, and other essentials, to sell in Quebec. If there wasn’t a financial incentive to brave the roads and weather, those essential supplies would have sat unused just a few hours away. Instead, they got where they were needed most.
It’s not the same thing with hoarding and gouging. Cleaning out retail outlets creates an artificial shortage, sparks panic buying and reduces everyone’s health and safety, by forcing others to ration hygiene supplies. These weren’t wipes and rolls of toilet paper sitting idly, collecting dust. They were already where they were needed most – on the shelves, accessible to everyone.
Amazon retailers make their living selling hard to find items for steep mark-ups. It’s one thing to stockpile the hottest toy at Christmas – that’s supply and demand on luxury items. Bulk buying sale items at the grocery store? That’s just wise home economics.
But hoarding essential healthcare, hygiene and medical supplies in a time of emergency? If even Amazon is shaking its head, you know you’ve crossed a line.