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Information Note on Implications of COVID-19 on the Consumer Price Index - December 2020

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It was estimated that households, on average, were unable to consume 2.8% of the goods and services in the CPI basket of goods and services in December. This compares to 23.4% in November. These mainly consisted of the following items included in the CPI:

  • Package holidays
  • Theatres and Concerts
  • Sports admittance

In addition to this, due to the closure of some outlets, household consumption for many other goods and services was significantly reduced.

Impact on CPI data collection

Prices are collected by the CSO for the purposes of the CPI and HICP by means of direct pricing in retail outlets and surveys by office-based staff (* see more detail below). Survey-based price collection in December 2020 was completed successfully by office-based staff, with minor exceptions, using the usual data collection methods. Since April, due to the restrictions on movement imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic, the CSO was not able to send any price collectors into retail outlets to collect information for the CPI. In December 2020, the CSO carried out a limited pilot to test new health and safety procedures for price collectors. The pilot involved 21 price collectors visiting a small number of retail outlets where social distancing could be maintained. The pilot collected in excess of 2,000 prices. Further details of this pilot are outlined below.

The CSO implemented the following data collection methods in December:

  1. Price information was collected from websites and the CSO engaged with large retailers that provided price data to replace the price information which was previously collected in-store by the price collectors. The CSO maximised the price collection from these alternative sources to the greatest extent possible and ensured that the information used for the CPI was comparable between November and December.
  2. The CSO engaged with companies and sole traders that normally provide price information in specific sectoral surveys i.e. mainly in services. The CSO appreciates the continued support and assistance of these businesses throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
  3. Price change was imputed for items in the basket where consumption had not recommenced in December or it was not possible to collect reliable price information.

December price collector pilot

In adherence with HSE guidelines regarding PPE, social distancing and other health & safety measures, 21 price collectors returned to partial price collecting duties in retail outlets in December. Price data collected included the following items; petrol, diesel, furniture, stationery and items priced in butchers, chemists and fish mongers. Over 2,000 prices were collected in this way and for the first time since March 2020, prices were collected physically in retail outlets and included in the compilation of the CPI.

In the period April to November, price data for these items was collected from alternative sources.  For this reason, there may have been larger changes than expected observed for these items in December as a result of this return to price collection in the field.

CPI and HICP are fixed weight indices

Price changes for the goods and services in the CPI and HICP are aggregated using weights that reflect household consumption patterns in the previous year. For example, food currently has a weight of almost 9% in the CPI basket of goods and services, which means that 9% of household consumption expenditure was spent on food. The weights for both the CPI and HICP are updated at the beginning of each year and are held fixed throughout the year. This approach is necessary to ensure that the indices only reflect price changes and not changes in the quantities of products consumed. Therefore, the aggregation weights for the CPI and HICP have not been changed in December 2020 due to any impact of COVID-19 on household expenditure patterns.

Harmonised approach across EU

Given that the aggregation weights must remain fixed, it is necessary to impute the price change for product groups where (i) household consumption has ceased and transactions did not take place in December or (ii) it is not possible to collect prices. To ensure a harmonised approach to imputation across the EU, Eurostat published a guidance note on the compilation of the HICP in the context of the COVID-19 crisis. The Eurostat guidance was prepared in consultation with National Statistical Institutes (NSIs) including the CSO, and the CSO has implemented this guidance for the CPI and HICP.

Imputation for December 2020

In total, 2.9% of the CPI basket required imputation for December because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This comprised 2.8% of the basket where consumption had ceased and 0.1% where it was not possible to collect prices. Table 1 provides a summary of data collection and imputation for December 2020 by ECOICOP division[1].

The main imputation method used was “nearest aggregate estimation”, where the price development of a similar available product or service was used to estimate price change. For package holidays, the seasonal nature of these items was taken into consideration when imputing a price change. For other product groups such as theatres, prices were carried forward from November 2020 to estimate prices for December 2020.

Price change for imputed items

It is possible to compare the monthly rate of change for (1) the items in the CPI basket where price change was imputed (2.9% of the basket) and (2) the items in the basket where no imputation took place (97.1% of the basket) i.e. where the CSO was able to collect price information. The overall monthly change in the CPI in December 2020 was +0.3%. The monthly change for the items where price information was collected was +0.3%. The monthly change for the items that were imputed was +0.2%.

Table 1: Summary of CPI data collection and imputation for December 2020 by ECOICOP Division

ECOICOP Division

 

Weight in CPI (%)

 

Of which:

How prices were obtained in December 2020

 

Imputed - no consumption 

(%)

 

Imputed – no availability of price data (%)

01. Food and non-alcoholic beverages

10.2

0.0

0.0

 

  • Prices data sourced from large retailers.
  • Prices not collected from smaller grocery stores.

 

02. Alcoholic beverages and tobacco

4.6

0.0

0.0

 

  • Prices data sourced from large retailers.
  • No in-store pricing.
  • Prices not collected from smaller grocery stores.

 

03. Clothing and footwear

4.6

0.0

0.0

 

  • Prices sourced from websites.

 

04. Housing, water, electricity, gas

14.1

0.0

0.0

 

  • Prices sourced from regular sectoral surveys.

 

05. Furnishings, household equipment

5.0

0.0

0.0

 

  • Prices sourced from websites and in-store.

 

06. Health

3.2

0.0

0.0

 

  • Prices sourced from regular sectoral surveys.

 

07. Transport

14.3

0.0

0.0

 

 

  • Prices sourced from regular sectoral surveys.

 

08. Communications

2.6

0.0

0.0

 

  • Prices sourced from regular sectoral surveys.

 

09. Recreation and culture

7.6

1.8

0.0

 

  • No consumption package holidays: Item with seasonal price pattern. Dec 2019 monthly price change used to impute price change for Dec 2020.
  • No consumption for sports admittance, theatres and nightclubs. Prices from Nov 2020 carried forward to impute for Dec 2020.

 

10. Education

1.8

0.0

0.0

 

  • Prices sourced from regular sectoral surveys.

 

11. Restaurants and hotels

20.5

0.9

0.0

 

  • Prices sourced from websites and contacting outlets directly by telephone.
  • No consumption for canteens and rail catering. Price changes for Dec 2020 imputed using the price changes from similar services in the current month.

 

12. Miscellaneous goods and services

11.6

0.0

0.1

 

  • Prices sourced from websites and in-store.
  • Prices data sourced from large retailers.
  • Prices collected by contacting outlets directly by telephone.
  • No price data available for weddings. Price changes for Dec 2020 imputed using the price changes from similar services in the current month.

Total

100.0

2.8

0.1

 

 

  

* Note on price collection for the CPI

There are two price collection methods used by the CPI. Direct price collection is used for 478 of the 615 item headings in the CPI basket of goods and services. Approximately 50,000 prices are collected monthly by 80 price collectors in retail outlets throughout the country. Central price collection is used for the remaining 137 item headings. Prices are collected centrally by CSO staff with minimal field work. In practice, this involves the use of postal, e-mail and telephone enquiries along with internet price collection. Approximately 3,000 prices are obtained using this method. In terms of basket weights (proportion of total household expenditure accounted for by each item in the basket), each price collection method accounts for about 50% of the basket. Therefore, both collection methods are equally important to the continued statistical quality of the CPI for the duration of COVID-19. 

[1] ECOICOP is the Classification of Individual Consumption by Purpose Adapted to the Needs of Harmonised Indices of Consumer Prices (2000).