Face masks: uncovering the markup

Why high markups at some retailers mean shoppers pay a premium.

20aug face mask markups hero

Complaints about high prices for disposable face masks have hit headlines since the latest Covid-19 outbreak.

Shoppers have reported packs of 50 face masks being sold for $100. At $2 each, that’s more than twice the price we found masks selling for before the recent move to levels 2 and 3.

Most complaints we’ve received have been about prices charged by pharmacies, followed by hardware stores, with prices as high as $3 a mask.

What’s behind the hike?

Pressure on global supply chains and changes in wholesale prices are responsible for some of the hike. But the markups added by wholesalers and retailers contribute to the price consumers pay.

One wholesaler recently listed its prices at $60 for a pack of 50 masks. That price included a wholesale markup of about 20 percent.

Retailers will then add their markup on top. Retail markups we’ve found on face masks have been as much as 70 to 80 percent.

Stores are free to set their own prices and markups of this size aren’t uncommon in the retail trade. But they’re hard to justify when retailers are selling essential items that are flying out the door.

Given the big increase in mask sales, stores should still be able to cover their costs and make a profit even if their markup was lower.

Tell us what you think

Our advice

  • If you think a retailer is charging over-the-odds for a face mask, let us know. You can also report it to the Price Watch site, run by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

  • You don’t need to pay top dollar for a mask. If you can’t afford a mask or can’t find any in-store, you can make your own or use something else as a covering – such as a scarf or T-shirt.

  • It’s important to remember that face masks don’t provide bulletproof protection against coronavirus. Washing your hands and covering coughs and sneezes are as vital as ever.

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Member comments

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Roger W.
24 Aug 2020
Face Mask Costs

Approx. 2 weeks ago New World Te Kuiti were selling boxes of 50 masks for around $30. As soon as we were advised to "be prepared" the supermarket sold out totally and Unichem Te Kuiti was selling masks (what looked to be the same or similar packs) for $150 per box of 50 or $4 each mask if purchased singularly. To me that is an unjustified price hike.

John H.
24 Aug 2020
Face masks.

My company imports face masks for the professions. Our usual manufacturer has been unable to resupply. We have found an alternative source at more than 3x the precovid price. Raw material and demand is responsible.

Mark B.
23 Aug 2020
Are NZ’s being fleeced?

Here in the UAE wearing a mask is compulsory anywhere in public, with a $1200 NZD fine if you don’t. So the demand for disposable masks is high (not N95), and virtually all masks here are manufactured in China by reputable vendors. The difference is the price. Here a box of 50 will retail for 9 NZD or around 0.20 cents per mask. There are no shortages, despite the high demand. I really think that the NZ Government needs to investigate why the importers are price gauging the public. They need to be affordable as evidenced by the rise in Covid numbers in the lower socioeconomic groups around the world, in order to protect and slow the spread of the virus.

Esme P.
23 Aug 2020
Price of disposable face masks

I paid $2. 99 each for disposable face masks at a well known pharmacy. Considering they are disposable and not reusable I think that's dear.
Unfortunately I don't know what the pharmacy paid for the product so don't know their mark up. I suppose you have to consider staff wages and rent for the building etc. I wonder how much the actual makers get?

Willie &Chris V.
23 Aug 2020
Pharmacy prices

Masks aren’t the only thing that are overpriced in our pharmacies. I would encourage you to do a price comparison between them and supermarkets. In Europe there are pharmacy discount shops that have broken this market wide open. Here we are being fleeced.

Helen G.
22 Aug 2020
Pharmacy owner responds

The cost price to Pharmacy (from reputable source) has increased astronomically since covid outbreak. We used to buy 50 packs of three ply masks for about $5-6. Now they cost us $50, and are not always available. Worldwide we are seeing shortages and I guess this is the fallout. Beware of online products that claim to be 3M brand or made in USA (and priced accordingly) - they are likely to be fake. As far as I am aware there are no masks leaving the USA because they need them all. 3M have also declared that they have not increased their prices since Covid - an N95 3M used to retail for around $5 each. Remember if you use a mask it is important that you wear it properly so that covers both nose and mouth and don’t keep touching it - every time you touch it you need to wash or sanitise hands to be safe otherwise you risk transferring any virus or bacteria from the surface of your mask to your hands or face. Stay safe everyone 😊

Cleone
22 Aug 2020
Mitre 10 price

Paid $15 for 25 masks.

V R C.
22 Aug 2020
Massive profits being made

While waiting for my reusable masks to arrive I purchased 5 disposable ones from my local Pharmacy @ $2.95 each. Clearly some retailers are out to make large profits at a time when we can least afford it.

Isobel R.
22 Aug 2020
Reusable masks

I recently paid $40.00 for 10 make at a chemist!

Shane M.
22 Aug 2020
Why disposable?

Far more sustainable to use reusable masks.

Simonne M.
22 Aug 2020
Disposable masks vs Re-usable masks

The prices given for a box of 50 disposable masks are way more than what I would be willing to pay. I would expect to pay between $10 to $15 for a box of 50 disposables (between 20 to 30 cents per mask). Also once used these masks could be harbouring virus particles and are not recyclable. This is why I decided to purchase re-usable, washable, fabric masks. I bought 3 for $10 with $5 shipping off Trade Me. I can have one ready to be washed, one drying and one to wear. Much more cost effective and environmentally friendly.

Chris L.
22 Aug 2020
Chris - Pharmacy owner

We used to be able sell masks at these or even lower prices, but now the wholesale prices are being advertised at $50 to $100 per box of 50 and often when we order they do not come anyway because they've already sold out, or never had the stock i the first place

KenA.
22 Aug 2020
Discount (?) on Masks at The Nile

thenile.co.nz currently has 50 packs of 3 ply disposable surgical face masks for sale at $22.17. They ship from Australia. Delivery takes about a week. There is a delivery cost per order which for Wellington customers is $3.90/order.

Judie R.
22 Aug 2020
Face masks

I know you should support your local pharmacy, but when I can buy 50 masks online for $8.90 US, I can’t justify paying over $50 for the same thing

Colleen M.
22 Aug 2020
Disposable face masks

Bactive (part of the NZ Zuru toy empire) are selling a box of 50 face masks on their website for $34.99. Postage is free and delivery efficient.

Rory H.
22 Aug 2020
Countdown’s price is far too high

Given than reputable, local online retailers such as OffTheBack.co.nz and GrabOne.co.nz are selling 50 packs of disposable surgical masks for $24.99 and $30.00 respectively I would certainly consider Countdown’s price of $54.65 for an identical product to be excessive.

Jean H.
22 Aug 2020
Face masks

My local pharmacy has packs of 10 disposable surgical masks priced at $24.99 and boxes of 40 for $90.00. That's an appalling markup in price. Because I can only use disposable ones as they're easier for me to breathe in I bought the 10 pack one. The following day we in Auckland went back to Level 3. But I certainly won't buy more from there.