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Indonesian e-commerce platforms battle price surges over coronavirus fears

Marketplace platforms have promised to take firm action against irresponsible sellers.

Singapore coronavirus masks. Source: Shutterstock. Singapore coronavirus masks. Source: Shutterstock.

On February 2, Indonesia confirmed two coronavirus cases in its territory. Two women living in Depok, part of the greater Jakarta area, were tested positive for COVID-19 and they are now under intensive care in a local hospital.

The announcement was made by Indonesian president Joko Widodo and health minister Agus Terawan. In addition to the two patients, there are 36 people in greater Jakarta currently under medical observation and 247 people are being monitored, according to local media outlet Kompas. The announcement fueled a shopping frenzy as people started stockpiling household goods, especially face masks and hand sanitizers, as well as food ingredients and spices. KrASIA found out on Monday afternoon that most cleaning products and hand sanitizers were sold out at several big supermarkets in Jakarta.

This situation has driven shoppers to online platforms. Indonesian marketplace unicorn Bukalapak, for example, saw increased interest in the health products category in the past few days. Even so, since Bukalapak is currently hosting various promotions on its platform, it is not certain if the traffic increase was caused mainly by coronavirus panic, the firm’s spokesperson said.

As expected, the prices of disposable face masks are spiking online as coronavirus fears grow. Face mask prices have increased by about three to ten times since Monday while hand sanitizer prices have doubled. While increasing the mask price is the most common method, a few sellers have a different way to reap profit: increase the delivery fee while maintaining the item’s original price. Many netizens have complained about this through social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, forcing marketplace platforms to take firm action against unethical sellers.

Aditya Maulana Noverdi, public relations lead of Shopee Indonesia told KrASIA that the company would act against sellers who raise prices excessively. Bukalapak is also adopting a similar approach. Intan Wibisono, Bukalapak’s head of corporate communication, said users can report irresponsible sellers and their accounts would be investigated and taken down if it is proven they have violated the rules. The company is also using an algorithm to detect unreasonable price increases, Wibisono said.

And it looks like they have stayed true to the promises. KrASIA found on Thursday that the price of masks and health supplements had begun to decline on Shopee, Bukalapak, and Tokopedia. “Our team has monitored all transactions that occur on our platform and has cracked down on sellers who violated the terms and conditions. This way, users can get products they need within the normal price range,” Wibisono continued.

Besides toying with prices, a number of e-commerce sellers have also tried to take advantage of public fear by selling products with unverified claims like protecting against and even curing the coronavirus, which could mislead customers. In response to this, both Bukalapak and Shopee Indonesia said that they are working with Indonesia’s national agency of drugs and food control to monitor the matter. Platforms will warn and even crack down on sellers who sell goods with misleading claims.

Even so, products with similar descriptions still seem to be circulating on online platforms. However, considering that most Indonesians actively voice their complaints via social media, it is not impossible for e-commerce platforms to later remove such products if they have incurred many protests.

Three days after the discovery of the first coronavirus case in Indonesia, no new patients have contracted the disease. The government keeps urging people to be careful and to always maintain personal hygiene to avoid the virus, while e-commerce platforms have also launched similar campaigns, with special categories that contain recommendations for health supplement products.

In China, tech companies are responding quickly to the coronavirus outbreak. E-commerce platforms like Taobao and suning.com are banning price hikes for medical masks while ride-hailing platforms are offering free cancellations and protection for drivers. Meanwhile, in the US, e-commerce giant Amazon has removed more than one million overpriced goods and products that made fake coronavirus claims.

 

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