On January 20, 2020, the United States reported the first known case of COVID-19 (referred to as Coronavirus), which has made its way across the world from Wuhan, China. Coronavirus has become a pandemic and caused the United States Centers for Disease Control and Infection (CDC) and other government officials to mandate regulations for our own safety and health. Here in Pennsylvania, Governor Wolf has closed Pennsylvania schools indefinitely, restaurants to offer take-out or delivery only, and closed non-essential businesses. With this mandated “stay-at-home order,” including certain social distancing recommendations, it helps the slow-down of the spread, but also permits people to go out for their essential needs, such as doctor appointments, medication, and groceries.
Normally, when people find out that they are going to be stuck indoors for quite some time, like a snowstorm, for example, they will go to the grocery store as soon as possible to stock up on the traditional “essential” items such as bread, milk, and eggs.
The whole “bread, milk and eggs” craze has been around and it really has interested me, because I want to know what is really going through the minds of these people who need to purchase these items and, in some cases over purchase?
In Laura L. Dove’s article, The Psychology of Stockpiling, she quotes Psychotherapist Lisa Brateman and explains the reasoning for buying “bread, milk and eggs.” It is because, she states, “The thought to get milk before a storm is followed by the action or compulsion to go out and stockpile it…we spend a lot of time and energy trying to feel in control, and buying things you might throw out still gives the person a sense of control in an uncontrollable situation” (Brateman). However, it is my opinion, and I think we all can agree, that the one hard fact about buying perishable items is that they all have an expiration date. Milk, bread, and sometimes eggs, will only last about a week. The same goes for fresh fruits and vegetables. If you excessively stockpile perishable items, you are most likely not going to be able to consume them all before they expire, which is a waste of food and money. But, according to Brateman, for some reason, you feel in control of an uncontrollable situation.
In the Coronavirus crises, besides the essential perishable items, people started panic buying hand sanitizer, Lysol Spray, and Clorox wipes a week or so after the virus hit the states. But it makes sense why people are panic buying these items. People want to protect themselves and their health. However, what doesn’t make sense is the memes on social media showing people with their grocery carts filled to the brim with multiple packs of toilet paper. Why toilet paper?
The panic buyers that are buying all of the toilet paper and are leaving store shelves empty, essentially made toilet paper a scarce item. Scarcity is defined as “insufficiency or shortness of supply” (Dictionary.com). Adam Alter, professor of marketing and psychology at the Stern School of Business of New York University, explains that “Scarcity is a really powerful driver of consumption” (Alter). Again, people are nervous about going into public because they are scared of getting Coronavirus, so a lot of people seem to have the same idea when panicking. Find what store still has toilet paper, and panic buy more of it “just to be safe.” It doesn’t protect you more and it will take you months to use that product. By the time you use up your horde of toilet paper, it will be back to business as usual.
But some consumers want to make a profit off of buying products in bulk, because they will buy one item in bulk and sell it online at ridiculous prices. Some grocery stores have made a rule that you are only allowed a certain amount of home essentials/cleaning products per family. However, the consumers’ actions also have an impact on the people around them in their community because some people go to the store looking for things that they need immediately, but are left empty handed because they are all sold out. It seems as though it has become a “me only” and forget everyone else situation.
While reading up on this topic and writing this article, I have come to the conclusion that people really fear the unknown and when people fear the unknown, they want to make sure that they are prepared for the worst. Lastly, I realized that people panic buy the weirdest stuff.