Trust Customers on ‘Non-Essentials’ Rules, Supermarkets in Wales Tell Government

October 27, 2020 Updated: October 27, 2020

Retailers want the Welsh government to lift the ban on the sale of “non-essentials” that led to aisles being blocked and shelves covered, and to instead shift the onus onto customers to act responsibly.

In return, supermarkets will use their speaker systems, signs, and social media to persuade customers to put off non-essential purchases, as proposed in recommendations on Tuesday from business leaders.

The announcement—by the Welsh Retail Consortium (WRC), CBI Wales, and Association of Convenience Stores (ACS)—comes after business leaders met yesterday with the government to discuss the rules on “non-essential” purchases that stirred up anger over the weekend.

“We recommend the individual customer is trusted to make their own decision as to whether a product is non-essential or not,” the Oct. 27 proposal states. “If the customer goes ahead with the purchase of the item the final liability ought to rest with the customer.”

To avoid tempting people into impulse buying, and to reduce browsing, supermarkets would take down promotional displays.

Epoch Times Photo
Non-essential items are blocked off in a Tesco supermarket in Cardiff, Wales, on Oct. 23, 2020. (Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)

Wales is in the middle of a two-week “firebreak” lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus. People must stay at home, “except for very limited purposes, such as for exercise,” according to the government rules, which also ban the purchase of “non-essential” items.

Health Minister Vaughan Gething said yesterday during a briefing that the rules already allow some discretion for people who are in “acute need to buy the basics which are essential to them”.

He also said he was “saddened” by an exchange on social media, during which a woman was mistakenly told by a supermarket that sanitary products are non-essential after she found the health aisle blocked.

After the 17-day lockdown began on Friday, images of supermarkets covering up shelves in plastic stirred debate and headlines. To avoid unfair advantages over smaller retailers forced to shut, they had been told not to sell non-essential items.

The controversy deepened when it emerged that Tesco had told a woman via a tweet that sanitary products were not an essential item when she complained about the relevant aisle being blocked.

Tesco later apologized, saying that the tweet in question was a standard response sent in error and that the Health and Beauty area of the store had been closed off following a break-in due to a police investigation.

“Sanitary products are essential items and are available to customers in all of our stores in Wales,” a Tesco spokesperson told The Epoch Times via email. “The reply to this customer, which implied these products were non-essential, was sent by mistake and we’re very sorry for any confusion caused.”

First Minister Mark Drakeford previously said that the “firebreak” measures were strictly time limited and would come to an end on Nov. 9—even if case numbers have not come down.

He said that the measures were to “reset the clock and allow us to get through to Christmas”.

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