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Facing The Future: Mask Sales Plunge As Smart Shoppers Get Used To COVID-19

People switch to buying online and shopping around. 

Face masks aren’t selling in the numbers they once did in Mexico.

That’s due to an excess of both street vendors and established stores.

“In May of last year, I was selling a lot of face masks, as there was a high demand for the product and not just anyone could sell them,” said Manuel Araujo Cervantes, a face mask salesman in Veracruz.

“The most valuable ones are the KN95 face masks, as they were not easy to find, nor to buy to resell. They were about 120 pesos ($6) apiece,” he said.

Colored and stamped face masks cost more than the basic ones. However, the market is oversaturated. (Zach Vessels/Unsplash)

Competition between sellers and supply and demand has risen steadily since the COVID-19 pandemic started.

“As time went by and the lockdown continued, imitation face masks became popular, as they were cheaper — albeit with a less quality — alternative. The cost of these masks ranged from 5 to 15 pesos (25 cents to 75 cents). This resulted in unfair competition, as it was no longer a profitable business to sell high-quality face masks.

“Even today, there are still street vendors trying to get ahead selling them with meager prices,” said Araujo Cervantes.

Some of these entrepreneurs decided to sell KN95, three-layered or washable face masks with various shapes, colors and designs to become more competitive.

Prices ranged from 30 pesos ($1.50) for the most basic ones to 120 pesos ($6) for the KN95 face masks just a year ago. Currently, prices have dropped as Chinese-made KN95 imitation face masks appeared in the market, selling for as low as 5 pesos (25 cents).

A year into the pandemic, many people have seen their work-life changed irreparably, from pay cuts to losing their jobs. Many Mexicans have become entrepreneurs, due to job insecurity and lack of opportunities, creating new businesses where they sell food, supplies or handcrafted items. Further, the usage of face masks became mandatory when leaving their homes.

The preferred face mask in Mexico is the KN95, due to its five layers of protection that filter the air and provides safety when breathing in crowded places. (Ashkan Forouzani/Unsplash)

“People can even buy them on the Internet, where it is cheaper to buy them in bulk,” said Jaime Quintana Zamudio, a street mask vendor in Veracruz. “However, due to the vaccination of the elderly, medical workers and teachers, more and more people have started to leave their houses without a face mask.”

They disregard Mexican authorities, which urge the population to avoid relaxing protection protocols, despite the ease of acquiring face masks and giving the vaccine to several population sectors.

“I have had to lower my prices even further, though my profit margin is minimal, because I have to get rid of the face-mask boxes I have back home. Once I sell them, I will leave this market and start looking for what else I can sell.”

(Translated and edited by Mario Vázquez; edited by Fern Siegel)

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