New items running low
Shoppers and retailers report certain things are running low, including liquid hand soap, disinfecting wipes and canning jars, especially the lids. Some products have been difficult to find ever since the initial hoarding last spring.
New shortages had been anticipated as the weather turned colder, because experts said the coronavirus would spike while Americans spent more time indoors. During a panel discussion with doctors from Harvard Medical School in September, White House adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said Americans should prepare to “hunker down to get through this fall and winter.”
More than a third of consumers — or 86.7 million Americans — already have been stockpiling household supplies, according to a November survey from LendingTree.
The top items being hoarded? No surprises, it’s food, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, face masks, water and paper products. Beyond grocery goods, Americans have been stockpiling entertainment products (including books and games), beauty products, office supplies and pet food, the survey showed.
If you're planning to avoid stores and are doing most of your shopping online, install a free browser extension that will automatically find you deals and coupon codes.
How stores have prepared
The level of panic might not be the same this winter as it was last March and April, but even a little hoarding will aggravate the already high consumer demand during the holiday season. But stores have tried to plan ahead.
“Grocery stores and food retailers are stockpiling products to prepare for another widespread outbreak of COVID-19 cases,” said Edward McLaughlin, a professor of food industry management at Cornell University, in September.
Typically, stores make use of demand forecasting, triggering an order to the supplier at the last minute, just before the store stock is depleted, McLaughlin said. But companies were caught off guard when customers began hoarding, and inventory levels were too low to match huge spikes in demand.
“Retailers have learned key lessons from the pandemic,” McLaughlin said. “Shoppers will be loyal even if you don’t have the fancy extras (skinned, boned, lime-marinated chicken thighs) as long as you have the basics (chicken breasts).”
Instead of responding to demand, companies are now sending paper products, pasta, beans and holiday items to stores with no need for an order.
Shop smart this winter
Retailers are putting limits on high-demand items, so you're likely to see fewer people walking away with carts full of toilet paper.
If you do decide to make a few big grocery hauls, be sure to keep an eye out for deals and rewards so you don’t put an oversized dent in your savings during the holidays.
A free app called Fetch will let you earn gift cards just by snapping a photo of your receipt.
And, use the Capital One Shopping app and browser add-on to instantly compare prices all over the web, even if brick-and-mortar retailers are open for business in your state.
These digital tools should help take the sting out of an extra challenging holiday shopping season.