We've missed our Window of Opportunity - Rats!

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I can't believe it. After months of calling people who prepare for Y2K, "Chicken Littles" or "Wacko's" or "Fear Mongers"....they actually came out with this (regarding those who are just now beginning to stock up):

"...it's not going to be panic buying. It's just good old-fashioned American procrastination..."

Gee...somehow I missed that window of opportunity when I would have been called "prudent" or "foresighted" or even "responsible."

Ya just can't win. ;-)


Stocking up

Retailers ready for procrastinators seeking emergency goods


By Maria Halkias / The Dallas Morning News

If you've bought extra batteries and bottled water lately, you're not alone.

Y2K shoppers are bumping up against holiday gift buyers, making retailers merry and padding December sales.

A poll conducted this month by Harris Interactive showed that 28 percent of U.S. consumers plan to stock up on items such as water, batteries, canned fruits, bread and soups before Jan. 1. That's up slightly from November's results, which showed that 24 percent planned to pad the pantry.

Among the demographic groups, 30 percent of affluent respondents - defined by Harris as households with incomes of $75,000 or more - planned to buy specifically in anticipation of Y2K, compared with 17 percent in Harris' November poll.

Cathy Hotka, Information Technology vice president of the National Retail Federation, predicts that the Tuesday after Christmas, normally a quiet day for retailers, is going to be a big one for Y2K-related spending.

"We've maintained that December 28 is going to be a very interesting day. People will have sat on the floor playing with the kids and the new toys for a while, all the leftovers will be gone, and someone in the house is going to have to go to the store."

That's when people will go in for a few things and come out with a lot more than they planned to buy, Ms. Hotka said.

"If it happens this way, it's not going to be panic buying. It's just good old-fashioned American procrastination: It's like the night before Thanksgiving at the supermarket when people realize they don't have cranberries in the house and need a few other things, too."

Now, Ms. Hotka said, people are starting to decide that maybe it's not a bad idea to get what the Red Cross is recommending.

The Red Cross' standard list of items to have on hand for Y2K is the same one it recommends for a snowstorm or hurricane: nonperishable foods, bottled water, flashlights, batteries, and prescription and nonprescription medications. But promoting such merchandise is a delicate matter for retailers.

"We don't want to be perceived as trying to make a buck on this thing," Ms. Hotka said.

Key items

Discounters, drugstores and supermarkets have stocked up on key items that are expected to be on people's lists.

Kmart has increased inventories of bottled water, flashlights, blankets, candles, lanterns, coolers and baby formula.

"We've anticipated which things people may be picking up. These aren't items that go to waste," said Susan Dennis, a Kmart spokeswoman.

Women are more worried about the event than men, and women with children are most worried of all, said Carl Steidtmann, chief retail economist for PricewaterhouseCoopers, which did a survey on Y2K fears.

Cecely Matassa, 21, of Rowlett said she's been picking up bottled water on shopping trips lately, and a week ago she made a special trip to Albertson's for "canned goods, baby formula and anything else that doesn't need refrigeration."

"I spent $200. My pantry is full. My parents looked at it and thought I was nuts, but I pointed out to them I have a kid and I feel responsible," Ms. Matassa said.

Younger consumers are more worried than their elders, which Mr. Steidtmann attributes to either inexperience, a lack of trust toward big government and big business or being more technologically sophisticated.

"Warnings from electric companies spooked me," said Jake Kidd, 21, of Garland. He's bought bottled water and "a bunch of pork and beans."

Retail industry groups have been working for years to plan for any challenges that Y2K-related situations may put on their stores and supply chains.

7-Eleven Inc. says its stores have already noticed an increase in water sales, and the company predicts that December's levels will exceed July's. The Dallas-based chain has also raised its gasoline inventories by 22 percent and will replenish its automated teller machines more often than usual on the days leading up to the New Year's weekend.

On Sunday, the day after Christmas, 7-Eleven will hang outdoor banners that read "7-Eleven Y2K Ready 4U."

James W. Keyes, 7-Eleven's executive vice president and chief operating officer, says the convenience store chain isn't playing on fears. The themed banners are just another way "to reinforce in people's minds that we're convenient all the time."

"We see it as a way to eliminate fear. We're saying there isn't anything to fear. We'll stock up for you. We'll be open when most stores close early that night."

And while 7-Eleven is ringing up some residual good will, it also believes that it has an opportunity to do twice the business it usually does over the New Year's weekend. Christmas is 7-Eleven's busiest day of the year.

Good supplies

It's prudent for retailers to stock up because it can be alarming to people if stores start running out of goods, said Peter de Jager, a Y2K consultant who heard about 7-Eleven's plans and came to check them out last week.

"That's when people panic and start buying what's to the left and right of the empty shelf whether they need it or not."

Eckerd Corp. says its pharmacists always have access to a 90-day supply of inventory through its stores, distribution centers and wholesalers.

Eckerd said it anticipates "no trouble in keeping customers supplied with their prescriptions."

But Y2K or not, refilling prescriptions five to seven days before they run out is a good habit to get into, said Rick Powis, Eckerd's executive vice president of pharmacy.

Home Depot hasn't seen any panic buying but is stocking extra flashlights, gasoline cans and kerosene heaters, said Don Harrison, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based chain. "There hasn't been a spike yet in fourth-quarter generator sales, either," he said.

That's not a cheap impulse buy. A 5,000-watt electric generator costs about $900, more than the average person is expected to spend on Y2K preparedness.

Mr. Steidtmann, the PricewaterhouseCoopers economist, says predictions about the impact of the Y2K computer bug range from "sublime to ridiculous."

"What is clear is that Y2K is definitely impacting consumers" and predictions for Christmas retail sales, he said. He estimates about $14 billion will be spent on Y2K-inspired purchases.

Spending patterns

Analysts also say the level of Y2K-related shopping varies by region. People in Western states will spend the most, and the Midwest is least concerned with Y2K issues, Mr. Steidtmann said.

A survey of retailers confirms that holiday shoppers and Y2K shoppers are colliding more often in Western states, especially in Utah, Arizona, Colorado and in some parts of California, said Ms. Hotka.

"On the West Coast, people seem to be very receptive to getting ready for anything. It's a self-reliance thing," she said.

But in Washington, D.C., where Ms. Hotka lives, "I'm not seeing anything to do with Y2K when I'm in the stores."

Check out the water aisles at your neighborhood discount store, and there's evidence that Texans are stocking up. Wednesday morning at Wal-Mart on North Central Expressway in Richardson, there were four lone gallons left of water containers that sell for 67 cents.

"We've had a little shortage. But we'll be getting more tomorrow," a stock clerk said.

And people who prefer to shop online have an option from Internet grocery delivery service Peapod. The Chicago-based company, which partners in Dallas with Tom Thumb supermarkets, has developed two made-to-order Y2K packages.

The Optimist Package is filled with party supplies, snacks, a camera and extra-strength aspirin for the day-after hangover. The Pessimist Package has bottled water, batteries, candles, bathroom tissue, canned goods and playing cards.

It's time to choose.

-- Moogie (Moogie@home.net), December 23, 1999


Timing... is everything. And labels are worth the paper they're printed on. Or not.

Diane, pre-pared

-- Diane J. Squire (sacredspaces@yahoo.com), December 23, 1999.

>>"I spent $200. My pantry is full. My parents looked at it and thought I was nuts, but I pointed out to them I have a kid and I feel responsible," Ms. Matassa said. <<

You mean all I had to spend to get ready was $200???? Uh oh, I overdid it I think! What was I thinking?

-- b (nah@rathernot.com), December 23, 1999.

Relax, the 2 C-notes is just for the 3 day storm. The 2 decade recovery is something else altogether!


-- Y2Kook (Y2Kook@usa.net), December 23, 1999.

Here's the way I look at it, and another reason to hope for the best. If everyone stocks up now, and nothing happens, people will not be buying as much for a while next year, leading to lower prices, because the stores must move the stuff, so I'll take advantage of the low price, and STOCK UP AGAIN!!! <:)))=

-- Sysman (y2kboard@yahoo.com), December 23, 1999.

.....sigh..... I coudda been a procrastinata..... (Picture a young Marlon Brando saying that to Lee J. Cobb.) As it stands now, I'm one of those evil "doomers" that parents keep their children away from. I suppose shooting a couple of them in the butt with my blowgun while I was practicing didn't help their impression of me.

-- I'm Here, I'm There (I'm Everywhere@so.beware), December 23, 1999.

Jesus! I spent $500 YESTERDAY ALONE!!! (And I don't even want to TALK about my TOTAL!)

Sooooooo, since I'm NOT a "good old American procrastinater", I guess that makes me an EVIL HOARDER! ("Kill the evil hoarders; without THEM buying everything FIRST, WE could have got LOTS MORE STUFF!")

Christ, makes me wanna PUKE.

8 days.

-- Dennis (djolson@pressenter.com), December 23, 1999.

What does that make the guy trying to buy 1,500 dollars worth of gold at the coin shop???? Can you hoard a commodity in a bear market?

-- Squid (ItsDark@down.here), December 23, 1999.

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