Panic-buying behind record high retail sales


The rice aisle stripped bare at Woolworths in Katoomba. Photo: Blue Mountains Library (CC BY-SA 2.0)

New figures from the ABS show sales in the retail sector jumped by a historic high of 8.5% for the month of March, when panic buying went into full effect all around Australia.

That was the month when fears of coronavirus-induced lockdowns showed us how Australians responded in a crisis – and it wasn’t pretty.

With stock such as pasta, rice, flour and-notoriously-toilet paper completely wiped out from shelves, Prime Minister Scott Morrison called it “un-Australian”, essentially telling the general public off.

Supermarket chains such as Woolworths, Coles and IGA implemented measures to try and reduce the panic buying so people who need products most can have access to them.

These included a a limit on all highly sought-after products with toilet paper being reduced to one pack per purchase, and rice and pasta to two.

At the time, IGA Chief executive Fred Harrison told Nine News the panic-buying had struck the sector by surprise.

“(It’s) been amazing, we still had stock of toilet roll on our shelves this time yesterday morning – you’re right it’s almost a wipe out now, we do need the public to be a little more responsible – we’re not going to be isolated indoors for the next three to four months.”

The supermarkets tried to open stores an hour early for the elderly and disabled customers who needed and couldn’t obtain basic products, as well as for healthcare workers on Tuesday and Thursday.

The CEO of Woolworths Bradford Banducci told the ABC it was important to have online delivery for their special needs customers.

“It’s number one priority, actually right now to get home delivery working in particular for elderly customers or those with special needs we know that the best way to service their needs and we are working very hard on it.”

After putting out a call for five thousand casual workers Coles was met with astounding 36,000 applications.

Australia’s unemployment figures have climbed because of social distancing measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

We also saw a large amount of traffic at liquor stores around the country as people did not want to miss out on their share of alcohol during the lockdown.

Major chains responded with restrictions on the amount of alcohol that can be purchased in each transaction, with people only being able to buy two slabs of beer, two bottles of spirits and twelve bottles of wine.

After deciding to close shops across the nation at 8pm to allow workers more time to stock the shelves, many supermarkets are changing back to 10pm closures as demand has slowed back down, and dropping special hours for the elderly and vulnerable.

Economists are warning that consumer confidence has led to a drop in spending so that following March’s historic high, sales are likely to plummet, leading to more pain for the Australian economy.