It comes after pictures of empty shelves and high demand for key essentials dominated headlines in the run-up to the UK’s first national lockdown in March. Now, a new report has given fresh insight into the spending habits of Britons around that time, as well as how effective UK supermarkets were at managing item shortages.
The report reveals the current measures of putting a limit on how many items people can buy in one go is not likely to work, and warns “further spates of hoarding could still occur”.
It states that although there were stories of people hoarding large amounts of certain items, most of the demand was because more households were choosing “storable products” than they usually would do.
The report adds: “Temporary limits on the number of units per transaction, introduced following the demand spike, are therefore unlikely to lead to the avoidance of stock-outs.”
Supermarkets ran out of some essential items in March this year
Dr Martin O’Connell, Deputy Research Director at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, is an author behind the report, titled ‘Preparing for a pandemic: spending dynamics and panic buying during the COVID-19 first wave’.
He told Express.co.uk: “Whether any panic buying leads to shortages will depend on whether supermarkets have spent the period of relative calm over the summer improving the resilience of their supply chains.”
The researcher also said the new system of regional lockdowns as opposed to national ones may bring about more localised shortages.
The report found limits on items will not necessarily prevent shortages
However, he added there are some factors which may make panic-buying-related shortages less likely to occur a second time.
Dr O’Connell said: “One difference with March, which may lessen the impulse to panic buy, is the more gradual slide towards national lockdown that we currently are on, in comparison to the overnight switch from minimal to severe restrictions in March.
“Some hope is provided by how quickly supermarkets have succeeding in meeting higher demand for online shopping, which by the beginning of August, accounted for a share of total grocery spending that was 70% higher than last year.”
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The report also found certain households were more able to stock up on items than others
In addition to item shortages, the report also suggests households on lower incomes had less access to essential items as higher income ones.
The report categorised households into socioeconomic groups based on factors such as job roles and wealth.
It found households in the most well-off group increased their spending by 55 percent compared to 30 percent by the least well-off households, suggesting they were able to stock up far more.
Lockdown three tier
Morrisons and Tesco are two supermarkets to have put item limits back in place
Dr O’Connell added: “During the period of panic buying in March wealthier households stocked up by more than less well-off households.
“This likely reflects the more flexible budgets and available storage space of wealthier households, and means they were able to build up bigger stocks as a precautionary measure against having to self-isolate or sustained supply disruptions.”
Last month, Morrisons introduced item rationing to three per person on items such as toilet roll and disinfect, with staff stationed at entrances to ensure people aren’t hoarding more than this.
Tesco announced similar limits of three items per person on products such as dried pasta and flour.
Toilet paper is one item supermarkets have reimposed restrictions on, it is understood