Stockpiling: the Real Y2K Threat

Retail companies, here and overseas, are among the best prepared for Y2K. Try telling that to the customers, though.

“Stockpiling by a frightened public before the end of the year,” according to the Financial Times [], “is emerging as a big concern.”

The fear is particularly unsettling for supermarket food chains, reports the respected British financial and news journal. “We are watching buying patterns closely in order to monitor customers’ actions,” Peter Cox, I.T. systems director for Waitrose, a supermarket chain in the UK, told FT. “To figure out what they will stockpile and when they will start.”

What’s even more puzzling is that the industry’s confidence in its preparedness to handle the Y2K bug is growing daily. Industry-wide initiatives have underpinned this, FT reports, by organizing those larger companies which have been well advanced in their preparations to share their information and experiences with less well-equipped groups and organizations. The Institute of Grocery Distribution, for example, has been running its Initiative 2000 program for over a year. Knowledge relating to Y2K by the organization’s members has been pooled and disseminated. The IGD says that this has been of particular help to medium and smaller retailers.

Americans, far and away better prepared than any nation on earth, aren’t letting that stand in the way of a good panic. The Sacramento Bee [] reports of Nevada City resident Dennis Edwards, who has “invested” $17,000 on a survival kit for the new millennium. It includes a propane generator, a water tank, a greenhouse and some rabbits and chickens.

Edwards isn’t a survivalist, but a normal, mild-mannered salesman who volunteers at the local health-food cooperative. According to the Bee, he’s thinking about buying a gun, too. “I’m not crazy about the idea, but I have a family,” said Edwards, a father of two.

Almost every informed observer and agency dealing with the Y2K problem acknowledge that unjustified public panic could well be worse than any technical glitches arising from the failure of some computer systems to read “00” as “2000” instead of “1900.” Nightmare scenarios include runs on banks and supermarkets, and the Federal Reserve has authorized the printing of billions of extra paper notes to handle such craziness.

Waitrose used one of their stores in Chelmsford that was closing down to run a comprehensive year 2000 test on its in-store systems. The result, says Cox, was encouraging: “We found the concern surrounding embedded chips, from our point of view, was overdone.”

As will millions of other slightly sheepish stockpilers, no doubt.

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