Target has joined Kroger in limiting purchases of items like hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes in response to widespread stockpiling because of the coronavirus.

Target began restricting customers to six items per person over the weekend, spokeswoman Danielle Schumann said in an email Monday. Signs posted in stores say the move is “due to high demand.” Kroger made a similar move earlier this month, with a limit of five items, and regional grocers across the country have done the same.

The moves aim to curtail a frenzy of buying in recent days that has cleaned out the aisles of grocers and drugstores, disrupting retail supply chains around the globe.

Costco Wholesale  Chief Financial Officer Richard Galanti said the wholesaler is struggling to keep items in stock to meet the demand, which boosted the retailer’s February comparable sales by three percentage points. Even products not related to the virus, like patio furniture, have seen an uptick in sales.

“It’s been a little bit crazy,” he told analysts last week.

Target’s response comes just days after Chief Executive Officer Brian Cornell cited “aggressive shopping” in its stores. But he said the virus hasn’t forced the retailer to alter its full-year outlook. That may change as analysts become increasingly concerned about the outbreak’s impact on U.S. consumer spending, which props up the economy.

“The most important risk we see is that consumer confidence in the middle class is fragile,” Sanford Bernstein analyst Brandon Fletcher said in a note last month. “It collapsed quickly in one month in the 2018 correction and that was just about markets. Now, we have market risks and health risks at the same time. If the recession risks were plausible before, they are more real now.”

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(Anika Varty / The Seattle Times)

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