Business/Economy

Costco brings back purchase limits on toilet paper and cleaning products amid supply-chain snags

Costco is once again setting limits on the purchase of popular brands of toilet paper and cleaning products, as the pandemic continues to put strains on shipping products from suppliers.

Costco’s Chief Financial Officer Richard Galanti said the company was putting temporary purchase limits on toilet paper, paper towels, the company’s Kirkland Signature bottled water and high-demand cleaning products because of “the uptick in delta-related demand.” Galanti did not specify what limits Costco would put on those purchases.

Customers at Costco’s South Seattle store are limited to purchasing one pack of toilet paper and one of paper towel rolls. The store also is limiting bulk purchases of popular items like Clorox wipes, according to an administrative staff person.

Like many retailers, Costco also has had trouble stocking liquid hand soap.

It’s not just the stores, either: On Friday, Costco had a one-item limit on the online purchase of its most popular brands of bulk toilet paper, such as Kirkland Signature Bath Tissue, Charmin and Kleenex Cottonelle.

A year ago, there was a shortage of antibacterial wipes and other cleaning supplies as suppliers struggled to keep up with panic purchasing, Galanti said, according to a transcript of his Thursday earnings call with analysts.

“Now they’ve got plenty of merchandise, but there’s two- or three-week delays on getting it delivered because there’s a limit on short-term changes to trucking and delivery needs,” Galanti said. “So, it really is all over the board.”

Galanti said Costco has been adding suppliers and stockpiling some goods when possible. The company also has chartered three container ships next year to transport goods from Asia to the U.S. and Canada. Every ship can carry 800 to 1,000 containers at a time, and they will make about 10 deliveries in 2022, Galanti said. That represents less than 20% of Costco’s Asia shipping.

Costco saw a big jump in sales this summer, as COVID cases waned and shoppers felt more at ease entering the retailer’s big-box stores. Net sales for the fourth quarter increased 17.5% to $61.4 billion from a year ago. Net income was up 20%.

But with the delta variant spike, the Issaquah-based company, like other retailers, has faced port delays, container shortages, product and supply shortages as well as rising labor costs and trucking and driver shortages.

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