Since Kenya confirmed the first case of coronavirus infection on Friday last week, the country has been in panic mode. The woman who returned to the country from the US via London on 5th March would later come into contact with another 27 people leading to two more infection cases which the President confirmed yesterday in a presser. Globally, a total of 156,465 infections and 5,838 deaths have been reported since the outbreak started in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. As expected of any unstable situation, price gouging is always the first thing to hit the citizens, where retailers take advantage of the desperate situation to increase the prices of basic goods, services or commodities to exploitative extents.
Cleanshelf Supermarkets has found itself in the thick of things with the regulator, Competition Authority of Kenya after it was reported that the retailer hiked the prices of hand sanitizers on Sunday following the increased demand from the consumers on a panic shopping spree. The authority which had earlier warned manufacturers and retailers against taking advantage of the coronavirus fears to hoard commodities ordered Cleanshelf Supermarket management to contact and refund all the customers who purchased the hiked Tropical hand sanitizers within the next 10 days.
“Cleanshelf Supermarkets normally retails the specific hand sanitizers at Ksh.800. However, the authority has determined that the retailer on March 15, 2020, sold the same batch product to consumers at varying amounts above Ksh.800, including Ksh.1,000, with the prices increasing within hours,” read CAK’s statement. “The retailer, therefore, exploited its relative strength as a retailer to commercially detriment consumers whose bargaining position has been diminished following the pronouncement of existence COVID-19 in Kenya,” said CAK.
Cleanshelf has since issued a statement terming the incident as an individual error which occurred at its Ruaraka branch. The retailer asked the customers who bought the commodities to go back and get a refund, promising to initiate necessary disciplinary steps on the employee.
“This was an individual error, and the management of Cleanshelf wholly and unreservedly apologizes to all our customers,” said Cleaanshelf in a statement.
As Kenyans panic about COVID-19, this is the time to depend on the Competition Authority of Kenya like never before. The watchdog must take action on the profiteers who would like to take advantage of the situation to exploit the public. Despite the sudden change in market conditions that require the suppliers to act in some way to meet the demands, they must be forced to act responsibly and the retailers’ prices must be closely monitored to ensure the prevailing market prices are not hiked. This will keep the country in a stable economic situation and prevent an unreasonable increase in the cost of living, which will indirectly contribute to the success of coronavirus containment efforts. CAK’s Director-General Wang’ombe Kariuki has urged Kenyans to report any case of hiked pricing to the authority’s offices.