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

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Prices are measured 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. *

The shop price observations used in compiling the March 2020 CPI were collected between 9th and 13th March. This was shorter than the originally-planned collection period of 9th to 18th March, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. By 13th March, 80% of the targeted number of price observations had been collected, which amounts to 40,000 price observations. These sampled prices were distributed evenly across items, retail outlets and geographical regions, therefore, the quality of the CPI has not been impacted.

Survey-based price collection in March was completed successfully by office-based staff, with only minor exceptions, using the usual data collection methods.

Price collection for April 2020 will be considerably more difficult than in March due to the COVID-19 restrictions. The CSO will not send price collectors into retail outlets to collect information for the CPI in April.

The CSO is implementing the following contingency measures to collect the CPI raw data for April:

  1. Collecting price information from the internet and engaging with large retailers to replace price information which was previously collected in-store by the price collectors. The CSO will attempt to maximise the price collection from these alternative sources to the greatest extent possible.
  2. Engaging 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. Imputing price change for items in the basket where consumption has ceased in April or where it is not possible to collect reliable price information. The CSO are currently liaising with Eurostat and other National Statistical Institutes (NSIs) to agree a common methodology where imputation is necessary.

While the challenges in April will be significant, the CPI team is adapting and changing the price collection methods within a short timeframe. The goal is to continue to publish the CPI on time while maintaining the quality of the index insofar as possible. Further information will be provided when the April CPI release is published, which is scheduled for 14th May.

* 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.