Coronavirus: Retailer 3 Stars' premises inspected after profiteering complaints and failing to adjust prices

Retailer 3 Stars had been asked to submit explanations and documents on the sale of masks, including cost prices and profit margins. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - A retailer that was ordered to explain the price of its masks after complaints about it profiteering during the coronavirus outbreak was inspected on Monday (Feb 17).

This was after it failed to provide complete information and did not adjust its prices.

The move was made even as the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) received more than 400 complaints related to the prices of face masks, thermometers and hand sanitisers sold in shops since the beginning of the year.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) said in a statement on Monday that it conducted inspections at 3 Stars' registered business address and warehouse, as well as five of its retail outlets.

The ministry will assess the need for further action after reviewing 3 Stars' responses and the information gathered during the inspections.

It issued a letter of demand to retailer 3 Stars on Feb 10 to submit explanations and documents on the sale of masks, including cost prices and profit margins.

Since then, members of the public have continued to complain about the retailer's outlets taking advantage of the coronavirus situation to profiteer, MTI said.

"Despite repeated exchanges with 3 Stars, the information furnished remained incomplete and its pricing practices have not changed," it added, which led the ministry to exercise its powers under the Price Control Act to conduct inspections on 3 Stars' premises.

Chinese newspaper Shin Min Daily News reported that a 3 Stars outlet in Hougang was charging $6.90 for a 60ml bottle of disinfectant.

A female passer-by who saw Shin Min's reporter purchasing the disinfectant tried to dissuade her from doing so and said that the store was charging $6.90 for a bottle of disinfectant which usually costs $1 to $2.

In its statement, MTI said that failure to fully comply with information required under the Price Control Act is an offence that is liable on conviction to penalties.

"We urge businesses to exercise corporate social responsibility and not take advantage of the increased demand to raise prices unreasonably."

It added that the Government has been closely monitoring retail practices and complaints from consumers on profiteering, and letters of demand will be issued to retailers if profiteering is suspected.

Case said that from Jan 1 until Tuesday, it has received 416 complaints from consumers on the overcharging or pricing of face masks, thermometers and hand sanitisers in retail shops and on e-commerce platforms.

Case executive director Loy York Jiun said: "While we expect strong demand for such items due to the evolving coronavirus situation, retailers should not take advantage of this to profiteer. Such behaviour is highly unethical."

He added that Case is closely monitoring the situation with MTI and the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore.

Members of the public can report profiteering behaviour and unfair practices to Case on 6100-0315 or submit their feedback through Case's website.

For consumers who feel that they have been misled when making purchases and wish to pursue recourse such as getting a refund, they can file a complaint for Case to assist them to resolve the dispute.

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