Booker Wholesale has restricted access to its cash and carries following retailer anger over non-retail and foodservice customers using the depots to stockpile for personal use during the coronavirus outbreak.

Last week, betterRetailing counted more than 20 reports from retailers who claimed to have seen members of the public gain access to depots across the country.

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One retailer, who asked not to be named, told betterRetailing: “My depot has been out of stock, and I’ve seen decorators and painters borrow cards to buy food and drink. This is ridiculous, and it’s stopping us from having stock for our shops.

“However, the depot manager has been good, and has put in measures to stop this from happening. For example, he said he was no longer accepting any new card registrations and is denying anyone from taking out a new membership.”

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Another Booker customer said: “I’ve heard of instances in which members of the public are accessing Booker cash and carries. People are going to do what they can while there are shortages.

“There should be measures like photo membership cards to kerb it.”

A Booker spokesperson said: “We are aware of a small number of instances where this has happened. We are now checking customers’ cards on arrival and apologise to our customers for any inconvenience this may have caused.”

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Following the reports by retailers, Booker placed a customer notice about new registrations on its website. The notice said: “Due to the difficult situation, we have taken the decision to suspend new registrations online and in store. This includes temporary cards and day passes.

“We have not taken this decision lightly. We are taking a common-sense approach to maintain good availability, while making sure our customers can access the essentials in a responsible way. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.”

In a message to retailers, Booker chief executive Charles Wilson said: “We have to accept it is not business as usual. In the past two weeks we have seen significant and prolonged increases in demand across all of our branches and this is leading to shortages in some products for some customers.”

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In his message, Wilson said the wholesaler had changed closing times at its cash and carries to 3pm on Monday to Friday, 2pm on Saturday and closed entirely on Sundays.

Retailers have been granted exclusive access to branches until 11am and children under 16 will now be denied entry. Only two people are able to shop per customer card, one of which must be the named card holder. Deliveries to new customers have also been suspended.

Concern over ‘public’ access to cash and carries was also noted by customers of Bestway and Costco. Costco introduced trade-only hours like Booker, but some stores claimed this was not being enforced by their depot manager.

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