- The median price of liquid soaps including disinfectants soared by more than 113 per cent, while all-purpose cleaning wipes now cost 214 per cent more
- Panicky online buying triggered dramatic price swings for toilet paper by 82 per cent
If online prices provide an accurate measurement, then Hong Kong should be known as the City of Very Clean Hands, judging by the soaring costs of liquid soap, disinfectants and wipes.
The median price of liquid soaps including disinfectants soared by more than 113 per cent, while all-purpose cleaning wipes now cost 214 per cent more, as panic buying by jittery Hongkongers caused shortages at many pharmacists and grocery stores across the city, according to a Euromonitor report based on data from its online pricing platform, Via.
Prices on Hong Kong's leading online retail sites " such as HKTVMall, Wellcome and ParknShop -have been much more volatile than on those in mainland China, Euromonitor's analysis of prices during the first 41 days of 2020 found. The big changes are seen as the menace posed by the coronavirus becomes clear in late January.
On the mainland, cleaning wipes' prices have fluctuated just 15 per cent, the report said. And the cost of liquid soaps including disinfectants has risen no more than 36 per cent.
"Coronavirus is having an unprecedented impact on consumer markets in China and Hong Kong due to the number of individuals working from home or unable to leave their homes," said Euromonitor head of research Jared Conway and senior research analyst Daegal Leung in a research note. "This has placed a tremendous burden on the infrastructure of e-commerce retailers as consumers look to purchase necessary goods from their home and remain dependent on their country's delivery infrastructure and supply chains."
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The difference between Hong Kong and the mainland, Leung said, is that Hong Kong online retailers tend to keep stockpiles lower than their mainland counterparts.
"On an ordinary day, this strategy could improve efficiency and cost effectiveness," Leung said. "However, when the public flocked to restock through online retailers, as you can imagine, stock runs out at a much quicker rate."
Panicky online buying triggered dramatic price swings for toilet paper (82 per cent), bleach (78 per cent), rice (65 per cent) and processed red meat (85 per cent).
In order to fulfil the rush of orders quickly, Hong Kong online retailers incurred extra costs for production and delivery that, according to Leung, help explain the dramatic price fluctuations online.
However, panic buying in Hong Kong has not been limited to online stores. Bricks-and-mortar stores have had shelves cleared of toilet paper, masks, thermometers and disinfectant, despite stores' assurances that supplies were ample.
Thieves have also swooped in. Outside one Hong Kong supermarket, knife-wielding robbers recently made off with 600 rolls of toilet paper.
"Due to the unusual influx of demand for household supplies, consumers found themselves staring at 'out of stock' labels in a handful of product categories" at supermarkets, the Euromonitor report noted.
With the virus still out of control and spreading " Thursday marked the first time that more new cases were outside China than inside China " Hong Kong's demand for personal hygiene products, cleaning products and face masks will remain unusually strong and prices will keep swinging for awhile, Leung predicted.
However, one thing should help prices return to normal before too long, he said: Hongkongers now need to work through those stockpiles of disinfectant and toilet paper.
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