A shopper is calling out an online retailer for a 170 percent rise in the price of certain face masks, referring to the price hikes as "crazy".
It comes as the Government toughens up on face mask rules amid the Omicron outbreak. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced new face mask rules, applying under the red traffic light setting. The new rules will apply from 11.59pm on February 3.
Under the new rules, face coverings have to be an "actual mask": bandanas and other makeshift face masks, such as scarves, or t-shirts pulled over the face, don't comply. Workers who are legally mandated to be vaccinated must wear a "medical-grade mask," Jacinda Ardern said. Examples are a "type 2R" or "level 2 mask" or above, or a "blue medical grade mask", while working in public-facing roles.
National Express Products (NXP) is an online retailer selling office and consumer products, including a wide range of face masks.
An invoice supplied to Stuff by an NXP customer shows the price for a box of 50 'Duckbill P2 respirator masks was $39.99 plus GST on January 7.
On Wednesday January 26, the advertised price for the same box of face masks was $75 plus GST - an 87 percent increase.
By Thursday morning, the price had risen to $108 per box - an increase of 44 percent, before dropping to $98 on Thursday afternoon.
Over the course of three weeks, the customer pointed out that the price of the same box of face masks had gone up by 170 percent.
The customer, who wished not to be named, said they believed NXP was taking advantage of the change of rules to the wearing of face masks, announced by the Government.
"I paid $39.99 per box of 50. Now they are retailing for $75 a box which equates to a roughly 87 percent increase which [is] crazy," the customer told Stuff on Wednesday.
"They're just taking advantage of the situation, in my opinion. I try and support local which is why I purchased these NZ-made P2 masks, but I’ll be looking elsewhere now."
NXP general manager of sales David Box, told Stuff the company worked hard to ensure its customers were able to buy the PPE gear they needed.
"Unfortunately NXP had to lift the pricing on our P2 duckbill masks. The pricing is reflective of the cost to source the masks as demand significantly increases, plus the additional cost of airfreighting product to meet New Zealand’s current urgent demand."
Box told Stuff he expects prices for New Zealand-made P2 masks to fall in March or April, when raw materials arrived by sea.
There is no law against businesses putting prices up, but Consumer NZ head of communications Gemma Rasmussen told Newshub taking advantage of the pandemic to increase profits is an ethical issue.
Consumers who come across what appear to be inflated face mask prices could contact the seller and ask them for the reason behind the pricing.
"Consumers can try and price monitor…if they're seeing examples of extremely high prices, they can contact the seller and ask them [to justify] this," Rasmussen said.
Under the Fair Trading Act, misleading and deceptive conduct and false representations are prohibited.
"A business needs to have a justifiable reason for a price increase, otherwise they could be breaking the law," Rasmussen added.
Head of Retail NZ Greg Harford told Newshub many businesses are working hard to keep prices constant throughout COVID-19, but demand and supply do have an impact.
"As demand increases, the price will often go up, but that provides an opportunity for others to come into the market," Harford said.
Although unfamiliar with NXP and its practices, Harford said globally, there are issues with product availability, putting pressure on prices.
"It is always a good idea to shop around for the best deal…if people are able to hold off, they may see prices start to come back," Harford added.
Businesses wanting to stock up on face masks could consider buying the cheaper, medical-grade masks which are more widely available, as opposed to respirator masks, he said.
Shoppers concerned about retailer price gouging, including inflated face mask prices, can register a complaint online at Price Watch.