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The coronavirus crisis is reordering everyday life in America in a hurry for a large portion of the population. One of the ways that is happening is the rapid disappearance of everyday products that we assumed would always be available: hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, toilet paper, soap, and more.
In the face of all the hoarding and supply chain disruption, people are turning to the Internet to acquire these products. But instead of finding hand sanitizer at a normal price, all of a sudden a 3 oz. bottle costs $79 instead of $1.
Is this legal?
Until relief comes in the form of unemployment benefits or additional cash infusions from the federal government, many people will likely be looking for side hustles to help make ends meet.
That could mean selling products through the Amazon Marketplace, which allows people to sell through the world's biggest retailer's website.
And that includes selling everyday home products like hand sanitizer and toilet paper. Just like these products often cost more at your local, independent grocery store than at a big box retailer, you could sell these products to try and make a profit. (Don't steal them, though!)
But if you intend to essentially run a convenience store out of your home or online, you should know that state regulators and large corporations are turning their eyes toward you.
Take, for instance, the case of brothers Matt and Noah Colvin of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Sensing the panic buying on the horizon, the brothers drove around the region, buying 17,700 bottles of hand sanitizer and then went about selling them on Amazon for between $8 and $70 a bottle.
That is, until Amazon shut their business down. After spending about 24 hours as the focus of the nation's outrage and a threatened price gouging investigation by the Tennessee attorney general's office, the brothers donated the stock.
EBay went even further than Amazon, taking down all listings for masks, sanitizer, and wipes.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 35 states have anti-price gouging laws, and several have quickly updated their existing laws. Many have to do with when a state of emergency is declared, while others focus on gas prices. These laws are designed to stop sellers from cranking prices way up from pre-emergency prices so that people can get what they need.
Go forth and make money. However, in this era of social-media shaming, you should be aware that if you try to gouge people, you likely will be caught.