The current outbreak of coronavirus has already proved to be a very real challenge for companies across the world. Apple, for example, has announced that it will miss its quarterly revenue projections because of decreased demand and limitations on its manufacturing partners. The same is true for other device makers and tech companies.
Amazon, the world's largest online retailer, faces two unique challenges directly related to the fact that it's the platform where people go to buy just about everything. Products on the site, even when sold by third-party partners, carry an implicit validation even when those products are unsafe or even fraudulent. In fact, a little over half of all items sold on Amazon are from those third-party sellers, and Amazon has had a hard time controlling what they do.
As a result, Amazon has banned one million products from its site--most of which offer false promises of a cure for COVID-19. There is no cure, at least not at this point. Products that claim to offer a cure, or the ability to prevent the spread of the disease, can often cause more harm than good.
The company is also trying to combat price-gouging on items like surgical masks that are suddenly in high demand. That demand has caused shortages in areas that actually need masks despite manufacturers ramping up production. 3M alone said it will produce 35 million masks a month.
The combination of limited supply and anxious demand means that prices have skyrocketed for these products. A search for "medical face mask" returns a 100 count set for $40.98, which is almost double the price two weeks ago.
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CNN Business is reporting that an Amazon spokesperson said the company is "disappointed that bad actors are attempting to artificially raise prices on basic need products during a global health crisis and, in line with our long-standing policy, have recently blocked or removed tens of thousands of offers." The company also says it will continue monitoring items on the site and "remove offers that violate our policies."
To its credit, Amazon has added a notification to related searches that links directly to the CDC page about coronavirus. That site provides information about the current risk and how to keep yourself and your family safe.
By the way, it isn't just companies like Amazon that have to figure out how to deal with this outbreak. Facebook and Twitter have had to deal with a wave of fake news and misinformation, and Google has added alerts to the top of searches about coronavirus to help direct people to accurate information.
Every business must consider the overall impact of the current outbreak on its operations and create a plan, especially as it grows more likely that we will see an increase in the number of confirmed cases in the coming days and weeks. That means evaluating how your company is managing the impact on both your team and your customers. It also means considering how you can use whatever platform you've built to help get people the best information so they can make the best decisions.