Retailers struggling to sell excess hand sanitizer are offering 4-for-1 deals and giving $10 gift cards to buyers. Stores might even start giving away bottles for free.

Sanitizer sales are now 80% down year-on-year, the Wall Street Journal reported Helin Loik-Tomson/Getty Images
  • Retailers are desperate to shift excess sanitizer and are offering massive discounts, the WSJ reported.
  • Some Piggly Wiggly stores slashed sanitizer prices by 75%, but still struggled to sell it, The Journal reported.
  • “It’s worth more to us gone than it is clogging our shelves,” B&R Stores’ president told the WSJ.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As people stockpiled hand sanitizer last spring, retailers bumped up their orders to meet booming demand.

Now they’re struggling to get rid of their excess stock – despite offering hefty discounts to customers.

Keith Milligan, controller of Piggly Wiggly stores in Alabama and Georgia, told The Wall Street Journal that it cut down the price of hand sanitizer by 75% – and customers still weren’t buying it. He told the publication he was planning on giving bottles away for free to customers at the checkouts if its current 4-for-1 offer doesn’t work.

Sanitizer sales are now 80% down year-on-year, while unit prices have dropped 40% in the same time period, The Journal reported, citing data from NielsenIQ.

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“First, there’s not enough. Next, it’s the right amount. And now, it’s too many,” Marc Perlman, CEO of Rhode Island discount chain Ocean State Job Lot, told The Journal.

He said that the retailer had sold between $10 million and $15 million worth of sanitizer since last March – but that it was now giving $10 gift cards to customers who spend $10 on sanitizer in a bid to shift stock.

Mark Griffin, president of Nebraska’s B&R Stores, told The Journal that the chain was now selling some sanitizers for less than half price.

“It’s worth more to us gone than it is clogging our shelves,” he said.

A spokesperson told CVS that demand is “still higher than pre-pandemic, but has decreased since its height, creating some surplus.” The company said it was donating some through its community partners to facilitate donations, and had also provided discounts to customers.

When the pandemic first hit the US last spring, people scrambled to stock up on sanitizer, prompting many retailers to impose limits on how many bottles each customer could buy.

Alcohol distillers including Absolut Vodka and Jameson Irish Whiskey shifted production to hand sanitizer to meet demand, while some people made their own at home.

Some companies were able to cash in on the shortages, fuelling accusations of price gouging.

After Purell hand sanitizer sold out on Amazon last March, some third-party vendors started selling bottles for more than $100.

These price hikes lasted for months, and spread to other essential products, too. The US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) found in November that some sellers on Amazon were still charging up to 14 times more than other retailers for staple products such as soap, disinfectant wipes, and face masks. Amazon told Insider that it had suspended more than 10,000 seller accounts for price gouging by early September, and added that it had referred some to federal and state law enforcement.