When the COVID-19 pandemic exploded in the spring of 2020, consumers were faced with a number of product shortages. Among the items that were in high demand but low stock were cleaning supplies like disinfectant wipes, paper towels, and toilet paper, with the latter being particularly demoralizing. Running out of Charmin is no way to start your day.

Now, it looks like the toilet paper shortage could be making a comeback. According to NPR, retail warehouse giant Costco is now placing purchasing limits on toilet paper and other household essentials.

The problem, according to Costco executives, is not inventory but transportation. Deliveries are being delayed for a variety of reasons, including a shortage of shipping containers, port delays, and trucking and driver shortages, leading to uncertain fluctuations in stock. This can affect both consumer goods as well as delivery of wood pulp to manufacturers. (Wood pulp is the raw material used in toilet paper and other paper goods.)

Retail experts consider Costco to be a kind of canary in a coal mine when it comes to retail shortages. If they’re concerned, the rest of the retail industry should be, too. The retailer also announced that they plan to limit purchases on their Kirkland brand bottled water, cleaning supplies, and paper towels.

Product shortages are often exacerbated by news of product shortages. When consumers fear important household items may be unavailable, they tend to overbuy, leading to dwindling store stock. Analysts say that the coming winter and concerns over the continued spread of COVID-19 will likely lead to further stockpiling. Coupled with supply-chain issues, certain essentials will likely be difficult to come by.

For common household items, it might be a good idea to buy a little at a time during shopping trips if stock is available. You may also have luck going to independently owned retailers over chain stores or checking online retailers like Amazon for replenished stock.

If not, there's always a bidet. The water sprayer for backside cleaning saw a sales spike in spring 2020. If you go shopping for one, just remember: warm water isn't a standard feature.

[h/t NPR]