As bare shelves greet worried shoppers looking to stock up on hand sanitizer or cleaning supplies amid growing COVID-19 fears, websites such as Kijiji and Craigslist are seeing prices spike for some of these in-demand items.

Some savvy Canadian resellers purchased dozens of boxes of hand sanitizer and face masks late last year while the virus remained isolated to China, wagering COVID-19 would spread beyond borders and make its way to Canada. Those bets appear to have paid off. As cases continue to climb, some people are charging as much as 10 times the typical retail price for some highly sought-after items.

Jordan Liu, a Toronto-based entrepreneur, told BNN Bloomberg in a phone interview he bought 100 boxes of Purell-branded hand sanitizer for about $6,000 in late December as it became clear that a potential crisis was emerging in China. He also bought 100 boxes of 3M face masks – which help keep out viruses and other bacteria – to resell on Kijiji.

Liu is selling the Purell hand sanitizer on the website for as much as $20 per bottle – roughly double what it would cost in stores – and $20 for each face mask.

“It [was] a bit of a gamble because you didn’t know if the Chinese government was telling the truth and if the situation would explode,” he said. “I thought: ‘Maybe I could capitalize on this,’ because some people are really attracted to and gravitate toward some name brands such as Purell.”

Embedded Image
Purell hand sanitizer (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Liu said he shrugs off any criticism that he’s gouging customers.

“I’m only charging between 90 per cent to 100 per cent more than what you can buy online,” he said. “I’m just the distributor. I bought [the products] online, I didn’t buy them from a local store or anything … I think some people are just jealous.”

Meanwhile, websites such as are banning listings that contain items associated with protecting against COVID-19.

“EBay requests that all sellers who have live listings offering items such as face masks, hand sanitizer gel or wipes, etc., review their listings and make sure that they comply with eBay listing policies,” the website reads.

Emily, who declined to provide her last name citing fears of repercussion, said she’s been selling face masks on Kijiji for $75 each. Her initial order from a medical equipment supplier in Italy cost her $50 for one box containing 10 masks, which spiked to $400 at the end of last month following a bidding war, she said in a phone interview.

While interest in her Kijiji ads hasn’t really taken off, Emily said her sister in New York City bought 1,000 boxes and business has been brisk.

“It has turned into quite a business,” she said. “We don’t want to prey on what is a health crisis. We’re trying to keep prices low to what we paid our suppliers.”

And if you can’t find items such as canned goods in stores, you might be compelled to buy a survival kit, which includes dozens of servings of freeze-dried food such as Stroganoff, pasta Alfredo and apple cinnamon cereal that just need water to cook.

These kits come with a 25-year shelf life, according to Tim Hodges, marketing director for Forest City Surplus, in London, Ont.

While Forest City usually sells an order of 15-20 kits over a weekend, since the coronavirus began spreading in North America, Hodges said sales have tripled. For some prepared items that are sold by the bucket, sales have become even brisker. Fifteen buckets sold on Monday, whereas just one was sold last year.