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Panic marketing and the coronavirus

Many business are playing on fears of a shortage of essential goods. We call it for what it is – very shonky behaviour

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Last updated: 20 March 2020
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Checked for accuracy by our qualified fact-checkers and verifiers. Find out more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Need to know

  • Playing on people's fears of a shortage of essential items during the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak is about as low as a business can go
  • We call out one prime offender – Mosaic Brands, the parent company of Rockmans, Katies, Millers, Rivers, Noni B, Beme, Autograph and Crossroads
  • CHOICE is keeping a eagle eye on the consumer marketplace in these difficult times – with the help of our members and supporters, we aim to make businesses do the right thing

CHOICE has been keeping a close eye on the sales tactics some businesses are ramping up in the midst of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, and we don't like what we're seeing in many cases. 

Neither do the many consumers who have gotten in touch to blow the whistle on unscrupulous traders. 

One tactic that's been getting far too much play in recent days and weeks is when businesses cynically play on people's fear about a shortage of essential goods. 

As always, we won't hesitate to name and shame the businesses we're talking about. 

Australians expect more from major retailers at this time. Using pushy sales tactics to exploit anxiety about COVID-19 to encourage panic buying is not on. These are disgraceful marketing tactics

CHOICE consumer advocate Jonathan Brown

One in particular, Mosaic Brands, is very much on our radar. 

It's the parent company behind Australian retail brands Rockmans, Katies, Millers, Rivers, Noni B, Beme, Autograph and Crossroads, and we've seen lots of ads and direct marketing emails from Mosaic Brands with language like "stock up now before it's gone", "limited stock, shop now", and, perhaps most vile, "stock up and stay safe". 

Our response to this kind of thing: How low can you go? 

"Australians expect more from major retailers at this time. Using pushy sales tactics to exploit anxiety about COVID-19 to encourage panic buying is not on. These are disgraceful marketing tactics", says CHOICE consumer advocate Jonathan Brown.

"We're actively looking out for businesses that see this as an opportunity to take advantage of people who are worried – through misleading advertising, price gouging or shonky health claims," says Brown.

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This kind of advertising in times like these is about as dodgy as it gets. We call on the community to dob in any wrongdoers they come by.

Keep those whistles blowing – and thanks

Much of the shonky marketplace behaviour we've been reporting on has been brought to our attention by CHOICE members and supporters. 

It's nice to know that there's still a lot of good in the world. 

As an organisation dedicated to protecting and extending consumer rights in the marketplace, we have a simple take on the issue of businesses exploiting a difficult situation for personal gain: businesses need to do the right thing just like everybody else. 

It's a view that's clearly shared by most of us. 

We're calling on people who see this kind of behaviour to speak up and get in touch at newstips@choice.com.au or tell us at CHOICE Community.