Will Grocery Stores See Paper Towels Shortages Again In Fall 2021?

Will we ever learn? Just as grocery stores are recovering from a run on paper goods in anticipation of the COVID lockdown last spring, the Delta variant and rumblings of another potential lockdown are driving shoppers to stock up again. According to International Business Times, Costco shoppers are turning to social media to complain about the dwindling supply of paper towels, toilet paper, and bottled water. 

The shortage is being caused by panic-fueled hoarders that scoop up in-store inventory causing an interruption in a supply chain based on average buying patterns. And shoppers left in the lurch aren't having it. International Business Times quoted one Twitter user that wrote, "What is wrong with people? Did we not learn from last year at all? I pulled up to Costco and they are out of toilet paper and water." Another Costco shopper weighed in with, "Why are people crazy after toilet paper?"

Learn from the past, prepare for the future

Some Costco locations appear to be taking preemptive measures. According to Best Life, customers report finding purchase limits on some of the most commonly hoarded items, like toilet paper and bottled water. Hopefully, that kind of forward-thinking by retailers, based on lessons learned last spring, will mitigate the potential for another round of shortages. As Forbes points out, unanticipated panic buying at the start of the lockdown earlier this year, left manufacturers in a bind. Almost immediately, companies found themselves out of sync with the uptick in demand. 

The ordering and stocking process, based on a pattern of buying patterns established over time, was overwhelmed, triggering a domino effect. The products in demand were in warehouses. The empty shelves weren't caused by lack of goods — the goods just couldn't be delivered in time to keep up with demand. So, when customers saw empty shelves, they panicked. And when a load of paper towels or toilet finally made it to store shelves, customers hoarded. So, if we do enter another lockdown — and cooler heads prevail — we should all have uninterrupted access to the paper goods we know and love.