Tuesday, August 11, 2020
What's the consumer economy doing in your neck of the woods?
I've been watching local shops for some time, and I'm seeing trends that don't bode well for the future. I'd like to describe them, then ask you, dear readers, to let us know in Comments whether you're seeing similar or different things in your area. Let's help each other stay informed.
The quantity and variety of consumer goods available has diminished fairly drastically over the past couple of months. Yesterday, for example, I went shopping for a few necessities, including canned tomatoes. To my astonishment, a local supermarket (Aldi) and a big-box store (Sams Club) had no canned tomatoes whatsoever in normal sizes on their shelves. Sams Club had some (not many) of the big five-pound commercial catering cans of tomatoes, but that was all. I've never seen both stores completely out of so basic a product before. I'm sure I would have found some if I'd tried other stores, but I didn't have time for that.
I'm also noticing a definite reduction in consumer choice. Where one used to be able to buy, say, ten different kinds of canned beans, there may now be three or four. Furthermore, some brands are simply unavailable. Aldi's house brand of canned beans was so sparse that the store had brought in several lines of Goya beans at twice the price per can, something it would normally never do. I asked the manager about that, and she shrugged and told me it was the only way they could keep some products in stock. The factories that produce Aldi's house brands are sometimes unable to buy enough stock to process it, or enough cans to pack it.
There's also a definite and relatively rapid upward trend in prices. Almost across the board, consumer prices are increasing. I'd guesstimate that they've gone up at least 20% since the onset of the coronavirus, and up to 50% for some products (for example, eggs) that are in strong demand. Gasoline had dropped to below $1.40 a gallon locally, but it's back up in the $1.90-$2.00 range already. Meat is up at least 30% across the board, with some prime cuts of beef almost double what they were at the beginning of the year. Anything imported from China, including automotive parts, is more expensive, and some can't be had for love or money, thanks to the disruption in shipping from Chinese factories. Automotive spares and consumables are also in short supply, presumably because more people are changing their own oil and doing their own minor vehicle repairs to avoid having to pay dealers and service centers for the privilege. A local dealer where I take my car has furloughed some mechanics due to the drop in customer demand.
While certain products that were formerly hard to find have come back into stock, others have not. Toilet paper appears to be readily available once more, but paper towels are still scarce. (Sams Club had only one brand available yesterday, and was limiting sales to one pack per customer.) Soda manufacturers are apparently producing only their most popular lines, due to shortages of raw materials. I'm partial to orange soda like Fanta, but it's very hard to find in these parts, because local producers simply aren't making it. They're reserving production for what's most in demand, and "niche" customers like me will just have to put up with it. Same with diet sodas; I'm seeing far fewer diet brands available than normal.
I've spoken about firearms and ammunition shortages in these pages several times in recent months. It's getting worse, not better. My favorite online ammo vendor, SGAmmo, had no 9mm. ammunition at all in stock the other day - the first time I've ever known their cupboard to be bare. My local firearms dealer is still reasonably well stocked with both guns and ammo, but that's because the owner is a canny soul who built his stockpiles in the "fat years", in order to be ready when the "lean years" arrived. He has people driving two to three hours each way to buy from him, because no other store in the area is as well-stocked as his. He's not gouging on prices, either - at least, not his regular customers - which is praiseworthy, IMHO.
What's the consumer economy doing in your area? Please let us know in Comments.