Retailers in the US are resorting to bizarre methods to conceal increasingly bare shelves brought on by the supply chain crisis.
Shoppers have flooded social media with images of bare shelves at supermarkets and department stores in recent weeks, as #EmptyShelvesJoe began trending on Twitter.
As the situation worsens, stores have attempted to literally cover up their shelves.
One eerie video posted to social media showed numerous rows of colourful folding lawn chairs set up along empty shelves in a department store.
“We are at the edge of the precipice,” one Twitter user who shared the video wrote.
“The ‘pretending it’s fine’ aspect of the charade evokes a deep terror.”
One person joked in reply, “Those are chairs for us to sit in and enjoy the bread lines.”
Another wrote, “Watched this kinda stuff happen in Venezuela. Warned people about it. They started taking the same choices Venezuela once made and we know where that got Venezuela. US seems no different.”
Ashe Short from The Daily Wire posted an image from her local Safeway showing products spread single file.
“Our Safeway appears to be trying to hide the supply shortage by using single lines of products to fill shelves,” she wrote.
She added that it “wasn’t like this all over the store” and “there were a ton of just empty shelves, so I definitely give them A for effort here”.
“That is exactly is what the Cuban government does … to hide the lack of products,” one person replied.
“Being a Cuban [this] is something I never expected to see in the US.”
Another, debunked viral image posted online earlier this week showed what appeared to be a sheet with groceries printed on one side concealing bare shelves.
That photo had actually been circulating online for months, and was likely of a planogram, or a tool used by retailers to plan out merchandise placement.
The US is facing unprecedented shortages and price increases amid a perfect storm of events, including pandemic-related labor issues, extreme weather and surging consumer demand.
As a result, the country has been gripped by panic buying and hoarding, worsening the shelf shortages.
Much of the bottleneck is occurring at two of America’s major container ports in California.
Some ships have been forced to wait up to a month to unload their goods, leaving everything from food and household products to electronics, clothing, toys and cars sitting in limbo.
The delays have been compounded by a trucker shortage, leading to an enormous and growing backlog of containers, dubbed “Containergeddon”.
Amid the finger-pointing, some truckers have also accused the port crane operators of laziness.
One trucker told The Washington Examiner that it could sometimes take them up to four hours to get one container and that “in 15 years of doing this job, I’ve never seen them work slower”.
Amid growing concerns the crisis could threaten the nation’s economy and holiday shopping season, President Joe Biden last week announced a suite of measures to address the bottlenecks.
Those included 24/7 operating hours at the Port of Los Angeles, efforts to boost the number of truck drivers, and commitments from private companies including Walmart, FedEx, UPS and Target to increase off-peak transport.
“Today’s announcement has the potential to be a game-changer,” Mr Biden said of the additional port hours, but warned “all of these goods won’t move by themselves”.
“For the positive impact to be felt all across the country and by all of you at home, we need major retailers who ordered the goods and the freight movers who take the goods from the ships to factories and stores to step up as well.”
Republicans have used the crisis to attack Mr Biden’s administration.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, an ally of former President Donald Trump, on Tuesday suggested more ships could be rerouted to Florida’s ports to ease the congestion.
“Our seaports are used to operating around the clock,” he said at a press conference.
“They’re used to moving cargo for American families, farmers and businesses, and we think that this is a great solution given our capacity for some of the problems you see in other parts of the country.”
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Sunday suggested the supply chain was only strained because of Mr Biden’s successful economic policies, prompting criticism from Republicans.
“Demand is up because income is up, because the President has successfully guided this economy out of the teeth of a terrifying recession,” Mr Buttigieg told CNN.
“[The holidays] are going to be a lot better this year. Because a year ago millions of Americans were sliding into poverty who now have jobs. And a year ago, a lot of us were gathering with loved ones over a screen.”
But Mr Buttigieg warned the supply chain woes are likely to drag into next year, despite the Biden administration’s efforts to alleviate congestion at the country’s overloaded ports, railways and roads.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki earlier this week appeared to make light of the issues facing US consumers.
“It was clear in March of 2020 when COVID hit that the supply chains across the world had been disrupted,” a reporter asked.
“Even as the sort of work to fight back against COVID proceeded, it was crystal clear that things were not improving on supply chain. People couldn’t get dishwashers and furniture and treadmills delivered on time, not to mention all sorts of other things …”
Psaki sarcastically replied, “The tragedy of the treadmill that’s delayed.”
She denied the administration had been slow to act.
“I think the important thing to understand here is that there are multiple issues that are impacting the supply chain,” she said.
“And some of that is that as the economy has turned back on, more people [have] expendable income, wages to buy more goods. More people are buying more goods. People have started to also buy more things online than going into stores. And so that is also impacting the volume.”