‘Accidental stockpiling’ behind shortages, Kantar data suggests

A sign informing customers about a restriction on the number of allowed packets of toilet roll is seen on a shelf inside a Morrisons supermarket in Liverpool,Britain, March 11, 2020 . REUTERS/Phil Noble

The empty shelves in supermarkets is largely caused by ‘accidental stockpilers’ – those who add a few extra items to baskets and make more trips – rather than buying of an item in large amounts, new data from Kantar suggests.

Analysis by the market research firm finds that only minority of people are engaging in what might traditionally be thought of as stockpiling. Those who bought extraordinary quantities of liquid soap is just 6 percent, and dry pasta, an even lower 3 percent.

Data for over 100,000 UK consumers shows that a significant number of consumers are adding a few extra products each time they visit a store instead.

The average spend per supermarket trip rose by 16 percent in the week ending 17 March to £22.13, compared to the same week a month ago. This, in turn, has helped supermarkets to take 51 percent of all retail sales, an increase of 7 percentage points on mid-February.

The impact of slightly larger baskets multiplies as customers choose to shop more often, the study finds.  An additional 15 million supermarket visits were made in the week ending 17 March, compared to the week ending 17 February.

Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar, said: “Most of us have seen images circulating online of people bulk buying products like toilet rolls and pasta, but our data gives us a different, if counterintuitive, diagnosis of what’s happening.

“Ultimately we need to look at the empirical evidence and it tells us that temporary shortages are being caused by people adding just a few extra items and shopping more often – behaviour that consumers wouldn’t necessarily think of as stockpiling. People will also be eating in more as a result of social distancing and increased working from home.”

Fraser added that shoppers are buying beyond their normal, regular product choice which puts pressure on supplies.

“Retailers have adapted to make sure everyone can access the products they need, with many restricting the number of any one good each customer can buy.  However, the cumulative impact of a little extra, a little bit more often means these measures may have limited effect in the short term,” he said.

Alongside supermarkets, health and beauty stores, bargain retailers and convenience stores all saw a rise in sales during the week ending 17 March, with trips increasing month-on-month by 25 percent, 29 percent and 19 percent respectively. Visits to pet stores went up by 27 percent.

Conversely opticians, clothing stores, sports shops, auto specialists and unsurprisingly restaurants have been hit hardest by the downturn in trade.