The last week has been a frustrating one for the world of retail.
People have been panic buying fuel at forecourts across the country, leading to long queues, altercations and most critically, shortages of petrol for consumers and retailers alike.
How does petrol panic buying happen?
The 2021 shortage started because of a lack of lorry drivers that were unable to transport fuel from the refineries to petrol stations. This was caused not only by a backlog of HGV driver tests due to COVID, but also European drivers returning to their home countries after Brexit.
This is not the first time there has been a panic at the pumps in the history of the UK. Twenty-one years ago, farmers and lorry drivers blockaded oil refineries over the price of fuel, leading to shortages, fuel rationing and school closures.
How does petrol panic buying affect retailers?
Petrol panic buying affects retailers in two different ways.
Firstly, it means that staff are not able to make it into their place of work as they do not have the petrol to drive to the store. This means smaller businesses may have reduced opening hours or may not be able to open at all.
Despite calls to do so, the UK government has not given priority access to key worker groups. At this point, we are unsure if they will or not.
Secondly, petrol shortages can have a significant impact on retailer’s supply chains. A lack of fuel, coupled with fewer HGV drivers than usual, leads to not as many items on the shelves.
This can have a sizeable effect on availability. It not only means fewer products are available, but also leads to a narrower range of products. As a result, this can cause customers to panic buy at their retail outlet of choice.
Iceland Managing Director Richard Walker advised that food shortages could happen soon if action is not taken, with the store being forced to cancel 250 deliveries a week.
What will the future bring?
At the time we wrote and published this article, many news sites advised that the situation was improving. However, one in four members of the Petrol Retailers Association reported that they were still running out of at least one type of fuel.
Time will tell if this is a one-off incident or something that will continue for some time. However, the panic buying has shown that retailers are being severely impacted by the current situation and need support to keep their supply chains flowing.
As well as fuel panic buying and lack of drivers, the UK currently has a CO2 shortage and is experiencing an increase in the price of natural gas.
Retail analysts have advised that fuel shortages could potentially cause issues at Christmas, with limited stock on the shelves and inflated prices.
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