SINGAPORE: The Buzz convenience store chain has apologised after cancelling the planned sale of face masks at 14 locations islandwide, prompting angry comments from netizens and some customers at its outlets.
At about 10am on Thursday (Feb 20), Buzz had posted on Facebook that it will sell V-Isolation surgical face masks in "limited quantities" at several of its stores located mostly in the heartlands, having advertised the sale in the day's edition of The New Paper and Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao.
The sale would start at 3pm on Thursday, it said, with customers only allowed to buy one box of 50 masks at S$35 each.
Watsons Online's price for a box of 50 surgical masks is S$12.
Several netizens initially complained about the seemingly steep price, questioning if this was yet another case of a retailer trying to profiteer from the greater demand for face masks and hand sanitisers amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Authorities have recently been cracking down on such retailers, with some being asked to explain the basis of their mask prices.
Then at about 1.30pm on Thursday, Buzz took to Facebook again to say that it had decided not to sell the masks.
READ: COVID-19: Demand for sanitisers, antibacterial soap and thermometers still high, say retailers
"The sale was a misguided attempt to meet public demand for masks. We have decided instead to donate the masks to charities in need of the supplies," it wrote. "It was an error in judgement and we are sorry for any inconvenience caused as well."
Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), of which Buzz is a wholly-owned subsidiary, told CNA that the convenience store operator had intended to make available to the public a limited number of surgical masks it had in stock.
The stock was left over after fulfilling a corporate order, an SPH spokesperson said.
"After further internal deliberation, we made the decision to call off the sale recognising that this limited quantity was unlikely to meet all the market demand," he added.
They believe that the beneficiaries of the charities would have a greater need for the masks, he said.
He added: "We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused to those who had queued up at our outlets for the masks."
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Netizens responding to Buzz's Facebook post were not happy with the last-minute notification, with many describing crushed hopes and wasted time. Some had arrived early in anticipation of long queues, only to learn about the cancellation from the shopkeeper.
Facebook user Daniel Yap wrote: "A lot of elderly were queuing since 12pm relying on the job advertisement published on newspaper ... there is also no reply when I try to call up SPH."
When CNA visited four Buzz convenience stores on Thursday at about 4pm, signs had been put up apologising for the inconvenience caused.
A number of customers who were turned away said they accepted the decision, pointing out that they were in the area anyway. Some said they would just spend more time at home, and make do with the masks they already have.
CUSTOMERS UNHAPPY WITH MOVE
Others, however, were less than pleased.
A customer at the store's Toa Payoh Interchange outlet said she had queued up for about half an hour with 10 to 15 people at about 1pm, before they were told that the masks were not on sale.
She said she wanted to buy the masks to wear to the hospital as she had frequent appointments.
"We also need the masks. Selling it to us and giving the masks to charity is the same," she said.
While she said she was upset at the time wasted, she went to a nearby shop to get a box of 50 masks at S$50, she said.
Another customer who only wanted to be known as Madam Tan, 55, said she had been searching for face masks at several locations and felt that the move was a waste of her time.
"You advertise then you cannot sell," she told CNA at the Tampines bus interchange outlet, adding that she was angry.
Mr Ricky Ling had rushed down to the Bedok bus interchange outlet because he had wanted to buy the masks for his grandchildren.
"It would’ve been okay if they were sold out," he said, calling it a case of "misleading your customers".