SG Ministry of Trade issues letter of demand to retailer for surgical mask profiteering

The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI)'s Price Controller has issued a letter of demand to retailer Deen Express, in light of the inflated prices for surgical masks. According to MTI, the public has lodged complaints of sellers taking advantage of the Wuhan Coronavirus situation to sell surgical masks at grossly inflated prices.  In the letter of demand, Price Controller requested Deen Express to explain the basis of its selling prices for the sale of masks, including the cost price and profit margins. The MTI aims to use such information to assess the need for further action under the Price Control Act.

The Price Controller has also issued letters to eCommerce platforms Lazada, Carousell and Qoo10 to request for information on any potential profiteers on their platforms. The companies will have to respond to the Price Controller’s queries by 3 February 2020. MTI stressed that profiteering is "highly irresponsible and damaging" in these uncertain times, and urges retailers to practice corporate social responsibility and not take advantage of the increased demand to raise prices unreasonably.

The MTI will also work closely with the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) and the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) to monitor the situation and investigate any unfair and anti-competitive practices.

This comes shortly after Carousell said it will reach out to sellers directly and advise them to price their masks reasonably in order to allow a fair distribution of masks. Su Lin Tan, Carousell’s VP of operations, told Marketing in a statement that the marketplace is rolling out measures progressively including advisories on Carousell News and curating a collection of reasonably-priced items to keep the community protected. According to Tan, listings with unreasonable pricing will be asked to observe corrective action or may be taken down.

In addition, Southeast Asian eCommerce platform Qoo10 recently removed a listing that advertised 30 "anti-coronavirus" masks up for sale at SG$10,000. An article on The Straits Times reported that the listing claimed the masks were "anti-pneumonia" and "anti-haze". Qoo10 said in the article that it "does not condone excessive profiteering", and merchants will be temporarily suspended if found of such behaviour.