popcartMarch 30, 2020

Why Tissues, not Toilet paper are the biggest quarantine rip off.

As a developer at Popcart, I have been watching prices on household supplies for a few years now, and to say this past month has been unprecedented would almost be an understatement.

Items are going in and out of stock in a matter of seconds, prices are moving up and down like a roller coaster at the canceled spring county fair, and some sellers are making a fortune marking up products at the expense of worried families around the country.

Toilet paper and hand sanitizer are getting all the attention, but what our data tells us is…

…watch out for tissues.

Tissues are a relatively cheap commodity in a stable market, going for around $0.12 for ten tissues, or a penny a tissue. But this is no stable market. Right now, if you aren’t careful, you may end up paying $0.20 for a single tissue. Yes, you read that right. Nearly a quarter to blow your nose, and another if you didn’t see the next sneeze coming.

Check out this graph that shows the average markup throughout March over the unit price we saw just a month prior.

While we are seeing markups across the board, the tissue markup far exceeds that of other household supplies. When you dig into the data further, you see that the total price per purchase is similar, roughly $12, but the number of tissues you get for your dollar is 25% of what you typically would expect. These sellers are hiding the price gouging by reducing the volume, an attribute that is hard to notice since we don’t typically think of purchases in terms of price per unit. They are sneaky in this way, knowing that due to the surges in availability most people are in an urgent, order now mindset.

Law enforcement agencies around the country are calling Amazon and other large e-retailers out directly for this, but as our data shows, it isn’t working. The $2 trillion stimulus bill promises to put a little over $1000 in the hands of your average American, but without measures to curb this sort of e-retailer price gouging, the financial easing could put that cash in the hands of the wrong people.

I’ll leave you with a few fun facts for tonight’s family dinner, as I’m sure that conversation topics are fading fast:

Americans use upwards of 250 billion facial tissues a year. This equates to roughly $4 billion a year in tissues in the US alone. With the current average markup of 309%, that number skyrockets to $12 billion. On a per month basis, that means that e-retailer driven price gouging on tissues ends up costing over $650 million.

$650 million. On tissues alone?!

Now, are all tissues as expensive as the ones on Amazon this week? Of course not. Are all people buying tissues online? No. But it’s still shocking to see the macroeconomic impact of such a subtle price change in a product we take for granted.

As we hunker down in our homes and wait out what feels like a bad dream, just make sure that you are careful when you buy supplies online. The $20 of toilet paper may end up only being a few rolls or the six-pack of hand soap may up being travel-sized. It’s easy to miss, and understandable since you have built trust in these companies that have been so good to you in the past.

But again, these are not normal times.

If you want any assistance in ensuring you aren’t getting taken advantage of, check out the new web page we built — thesupplyfinder.com. There you’ll find lists of common household supplies with information on where they are available, as well as price guidance.

As always, if you have questions, ideas or feedback, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at team@popcart.com.