Mon, Mar 31, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Disease spawns buying spree for select products

By Annabel Lue  /  STAFF REPORTER

Face masks, disinfectant, bleach and air-conditioner filters are now among retailers' best sellers, as consumers try to protect themselves against a respiratory disease that has been contracted by more than 1,550 people worldwide, killing 55.

Masks used to be categorized as slow-sale items, but demand rose last week as fears over severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) increased, a retailer said.

"We sold 500 face masks at one of our outlets over the weekend. Generally, we sell less than 10 in a month," said Fiona Wang (王彤芳), public relations manager at RT-Mart (大潤發).

Mask sales surged 10-fold before the weekend at RT-Mart's 21 outlets nationwide, she said.

Disinfectant or bleach, commonly used for sterilization, has also become popular, Wang said. "Sales of disinfectant increased 500 percent," she said.

These low-priced items may explain why consumers do not hesitate to snap them up quickly, another retailer said.

"Disinfectants only costs around NT$100 a bottle, so consumers are quick to pick one up," said Jacqueline Lee (李津玲), a senior marketing official at B&Q International Co (特力屋).

The home-improvement retailer also reported that sales of air-conditioner filters and air purifiers doubled last week.

Air purifiers may help screen out the disease, Lee said.

Small, portable air purifiers designed for office workers have become a hot item at B&Q. They sell for around NT$2,000.

"Consumers paid less attention to these kinds of products in the past," Lee said. "But recently more of our customers are looking at these products," Lee said.

Outside Taipei, efforts to take preventative measures are not so great.

"We didn't see strong mask sales," said Eric Tseng (曾台川), general manger of Tesco Stores (Taiwan) Co's Taoyuan outlet.

"But our snack sales have increased recently," Tseng said, indicating that people may be spending more time at home.

Chinese-language media yesterday reported that the number of shopping center and department-store visitors dropped about 30 percent over the weekend. But retailers tried to downplay any impact from the disease.

"We didn't see much difference ... the traffic is about the same as before, " said Pu Mei-yu (普美玉), deputy manager of Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Department Store's (新光三越百貨) Hsinyi branch.

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