A brokerage creates buzz amid mask shortage

February 17, 2020 16:55
A file picture shows people queuing to buy face masks in Hong Kong amid the coronavirus outbreak. A short supply has created opportunities for businesses and organizations to earn some goodwill by distributing the protective items. Photo: Reuters

A gift in need is a gift indeed.

Futu Securities, a Tencent-backed online stock brokerage, seems to have hit the right idea to create a buzz amid the virus scare as it announced that it will give out face masks for its customers.

The US-listed brokerage, which is known to think out of the box for its marketing campaigns, said it will give out 35,000 masks from Japan to its customers and the needy in the Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation.

Each customer will get a pack of 20 masks if they sign up on Facebook starting Wednesday morning, and the masks will be sent to customers who pay a delivery fee.

Masks have been the most sought-after commodity in Hong Kong for the last three weeks since the outbreak of Covid-19 in the mainland and some infections here locally.

Almost every country in the world has seen a run on masks as the Wuhan coronavirus has spread to other parts of the world. In Hong Kong, the government has been clueless as it failed to ensure adequate supply of the protective items, leading to a frustrated citizenry.

Many people had to line up for hours, sometimes even overnight, for masks in the windy winter when some stores promised to secure stocks. Others kept a vigil on online shopping malls, waiting for sudden offers and flash sales and hoping to get lucky.

Amid the shortage, many commercial organizations and political parties have begun to do their bit, offering some relief to their followers.

Still, you have to be lucky to be able to get your hands on some facial coverings. Last week, your truly could not log in to a Watsons Shop offer as nearly 1.5 million people were on the system at the same time.

Also, I didn't find success when I took a shot at an offer from Joshua Wong’s Demosistō group. I got registration confirmation but was later informed of refunds as the order numbers were way beyond what they could handle.

I forgave Joshua (just hope he would be less ambitious, next time round), and quickly sought alternatives.

Right now, there are some masks in the market, but they cost a lot more. I noticed that some supply is available on a shopping site, but the asking price works out to more than HK$10 per mask, or about at least 20 times the average price a month ago before the official outbreak.

People are reconciled to the idea of paying a premium for the items in short supply, yet being asked to pay hundreds of dollars for a small pack is galling. Nobody wants to feel cheated and look dumb by knowingly falling victim to profiteering merchants and importers.

Returning to our original subject of Futu Securities' initiative, would it encourage people to open up new stock accounts?

In a previous promotional offer, Futu had once offered new customers HK$500 worth interest in Tencent and AIA Group stocks along with a couple of movie tickets (which might not be that sought-after now).

But now the gift of masks seems extra special and alluring. Also, the target could well be those who are working from home and having some extra time to pay more attention to the stock market.

Next, who will give toilet paper rolls or 10kg of rice?

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EJ Insight writer