Shoppers are once again loading up on paper goods and cleaning supplies in areas of the United States hard hit by rising coronavirus infections, leading to empty shelves at some Walmart stores.
Officials at Walmart (WMT), the largest retailer in the country, said Tuesday that supply chains have not kept up with rising demand, and these goods have been harder to stock consistently in locations with sharp spikes in new virus cases. The United States has recorded more than 100,000 daily infections for two weeks straight, and on Monday reported more than 166,000 new cases.
“We do see big differences, depending on the communities that you’re in,” Walmart US CEO John Furner said on a call with analysts Tuesday after Walmart reported its quarterly earnings. “The specific categories where we have the most strain at the present time would be bath tissue and cleaning supplies.”
Walmart CEO Doug McMillon called it “disappointing” to see “as many out-of-stocks as we have in consumables right now generally,” although he said the situation had improved since the spring. He stressed that Walmart was better prepared to handle the demand than it was earlier in the year.
“It feels to me like we’ll work through this period of time better than we did in the first wave,” McMillon said.
Walmart has not implemented a storewide policy on purchase limits for customers. But store managers have the authority to “implement item limits based on their specific store experience to help sustain product availability,” said Delia Garcia, spokesperson for Walmart, in an email.
The retailer also recently resumed counting the number of customers inside its stores as a safety precaution.
Several other leading grocery chains have reimposed limits on toilet paper, paper towels and disinfecting wipes, hoping to keep their shelves stocked.
At Kroger (KR), customers can purchase a maximum of two items when it comes to products like bath tissue, paper towels, disinfecting wipes and hand soap. Giant, a grocery chain in the Northeast, recently put a limit of one on purchases of larger toilet paper and paper towel sizes and four on smaller toilet paper and paper towel sizes.
H-E-B in Texas has implemented similar policies in recent weeks. Some H-E-B stores have instituted limits of two on purchases of disinfecting and antibacterial sprays, while other stores have limited toilet paper and paper towels to two.
Around 21% of paper products such as toilet paper and paper towels and 16% of household cleaning products were out of stock during the week ending November 15, according to data from market research firm IRI. Typically, around 5% of products are out of stock.