15 days to stop the spread.
548 days to run out of toilet paper.
Costco was rather cryptic in their announcement in that they did not exactly spell out how they were going to limit purchases.
If they're serious though...
It's not just toilet paper, either. The Covid "Big Three" are back: toilet paper, paper towels, and cleaning supplies.
The shortages have been coming on since at least last month.
As early as August, there had been some social media posts about product limitations for some of its private-label products. This week, the retailer warned some customers that they may see delays when they placed an online order for toilet paper — a household item that has become synonymous with stockpiling. That delay was first reported by Fox Business, which saw it mentioned in a purchase order confirmation email.
Coincidentally, I happened to place an order for toilet paper, paper towels, and some cleaning supplies last week (I was totally NOT hoarding, or at least not any more than I normally do).
I dug up the confirmation email, which had a warning about potential delays:
Thank you for your recent order with Costco.com.
Due to increased volumes, you may see a slight delay in the processing of this order. Please be assured we are working to fulfill everything as quickly as possible. You will receive an email with tracking information once your order has shipped
"Increased volumes?" Well, I suppose Halloween is coming up...
As it turned out, the order did not arrive on the day it was supposed to. Naturally, I panicked, but it finally came late the next day so it was okay.
It was okay. Everything's okay.
Why is this happening?
The New York Times leaned on the Covid angle, because when you're blaming a soulless virus, you're not blaming Joe Biden.
Costco CFO Richard Galanti had all kinds of reasons for the move, not unlike when a child starts dancing around trying to come up with a convincing excuse as to why he didn't do his homework:
"I couldn't find a pen and the my tablet died and the light bulb burned out and I needed a snack and..."
"The factors pressuring supply chains and inflation include port delays, container shortages, Covid disruptions, shortages on various components, raw materials and ingredients, labor cost pressures and truck and driver shortages."
These are all real things that are definitely affecting supply chains, but why are they happening at all?
Most blamed "Covid disruptions" like the New York Times, without ever really defining what that means. I suspect it's at least partly a matter of Covid regulatory disruptions, as all manner of arbitrary restrictions continue to be placed on social and economic activity.
Regardless, when you have a mismatch between supply and demand of essential items like "raw materials," "ingredients," and "labor," you have to pay more for those things.
Overall, Costco estimates that inflation is running between 3.5% and 4.5%, a full percentage point higher than what its estimate was in early May, Galanti said. Despite those increases in the cost of doing business, he was adamant that the company will do everything in its power to not raise prices for members.
That hasn't been easy to do in this environment, especially when everything, from gasoline to cardboard to the resin that makes plastic products like garbage bags and disposable plates, is two-, three-, or even four-times as expensive as it was before the pandemic.
Hoarding toilet paper might not be an act of desperation so much as it is a wise investment.
How successful will Costco's efforts to calm the populace and limit hoarding be?
Let's put it this way, telling people there's no reason to hoard is pretty much a sure-fire way to encourage people to hoard.
Every. Single. Time.
But whether panic buying is causing the shortages now, a policy like Costco's limiting sales could prompt a run on those very items by shoppers said Steven Taylor, a professor in the University of British Columbia's Psychiatry Department.
Of course, we have to intellectualize even the most banal things these days, so of course we have a name for this type of completely normal behavior.
This, he said, is known as the "innuendo effect" in social psychology. While limits on purchases could prevent some shortages, they often stoke fears on the part of shoppers.
The combination of a complete lack of trust in official announcements together with the completely legitimate expectation that everyone else is going to hoard, is not "panic" buying and it's not "fear."
It's rational behavior, even if it takes place in an irrational world.
In any case, I'm largely done with my own personal hoarding, so please feel free to load up on paper goods and cleaning supplies.
Before everyone else does.
P.S. Now check out our latest video: "Highlights from Biden's speech last night" 👇