Demand for Sharp’s Face Masks Crashes Its Website

(Bloomberg) -- Japan’s Sharp Corp., better known as a maker of flat-panel televisions and iPhone screen provider for Apple Inc., ran into trouble on the first day of sale of its latest hit product: face masks.

Customers flocked to Sharp’s website on Tuesday, rendering the site inaccessible as they sought to buy made-in-Japan masks by the electronics maker. Demand for the 2,980 yen ($28) boxes of 50 masks was so high that the flood of web traffic even impacted Sharp’s connected devices, with users complaining that internet-of-things gadgets from air conditioners to online kitty litter boxes were inaccessible.

After a request from Japanese authorities to meet increased demand for face masks for consumers, Sharp began production in February. Having initially prioritized output for the Japanese government, sales were set to start Tuesday, with new allotments available everyday at 10 a.m.

Demand for Sharp’s Face Masks Crashes Its Website

Sharp’s well-followed Twitter account apologized for the “crowding” of its website with a reference to “mitsu,” a character indicating closeness that has been used in authorities’ daily pleas for people to avoid closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The site remained inaccessible as of 3 p.m. in Tokyo. Spokesman Tsutomu Hirano said Sharp was investigating the cause of the disruption to its IoT devices.

With the coronavirus continuing to spread in the country despite a state of quasi-lockdown, with cases topping 11,000, masks remain difficult to obtain even as supplies of toilet paper, tissues and hand sanitizers have begun to return to shelves.

After some drugstores saw big crowds of shoppers when their shelves were fully stocked in in the morning, many have now taken to randomizing the time they put their masks and other products on sale. Online auction and flea-market sites in the country have banned the sale of face masks after the government introduced penalties including as long as a year in prison for price-gouging re-sellers.

Sharp is just one of the Japanese blue-chips looking to assist. Panasonic Corp. said Monday it would begin making masks for its workers to reduce the need to source them in the market, while SoftBank Group Corp. Chief Executive Officer Masayoshi Son plans for his company to supply 300 million face masks per month in Japan.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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