COVID-19: Why are people panic buying?

1 April 2020

In many parts of the world, supermarkets have struggled to keep up with demand. Toilet paper is a rare commodity during coronavirus. But is this a sign of people being selfish and showing the worst in humanity? I don't think so.

In this episode, I will discuss the reasons for increased food consumption, as well as some psychological needs, and why empty shelves may be a sign that people are being considerate and taking the threat of self-isolation seriously.

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Transcription

Speaker 1 (00:00):

Hey, it's Chris back with another show talking about how we're managing our psychology and our mental health around the COVID-19 pandemic. And today want to talk about something close to that, which is why is everyone panic buying in a lot of areas of the world, shops are empty. It's hard to especially get like hand-washing toilet paper but also things like bread and milk in some places, meat and fruit and vegetables. Everyone seems to be panicked buying what's going on. What's the psychology behind that? And there were mixed opinions about this, but my personal opinion and the opinion I've seen of, of, of some of the, uh, some of the well-researched people out there is actually that a lot less panic buying going on than people think. But we'll talk about that. We'll talk about the psychology and we'll talk about the time, the reasons that we might actually want to do it.


Speaker 1 (00:57):

So it's definitely true that a lot of shops and a lot of the countries are empty. It's hard to get stuff, but that's not necessarily that because everyone's being selfish. So I see a load of stuff on Facebook or people being angry about the fact everyone's panic buying and buying more than they need and more vulnerable customers, elderly customers, people on low incomes who can't afford to stockpile food are really struggling to get hold of the basics. And it is true that some of that is happening and it's hard, but I don't think that it's necessarily due to people hoarding and people being selfish. One of the problems we have, especially in the Western world is that supermarkets, we run a lot on just in time deliveries. They don't have big stock rooms. So you go to like a little Tesco express, something like that, a little convenience store.


Speaker 1 (01:59):

And they don't have a Nova like massive basement where they've got thousands more toilet rolls. So if they sell out toilet rolls, digits replenish it. Actually what happens most of the time is they have everything at big warehouses or they have everything with the manufacturers and at the last minute, every day a truck turns up and refills this stuff. And when you go in to your convenience store and buy a toilet roll, their computer system says to the warehouse, get some more toilet rolls in, infant the manufacturer. Then we ship them out on a daily truck to the store. Now the problem with not having those supplies on site is any rise in demand is just going to decimate the store because they can't replace it because it's all at the warehouses and all the manufacturers and they bring it in at the very last minute. Now if we look at what's happened recently, well a lot of countries closed workplaces and closed schools, so a lot of people suddenly gone from CNR household where we tend to eat breakfast and lunch out at the office.


Speaker 1 (03:02):

Then you know, we typically make the evening meal and weekends, so that's like 11 meals a week and suddenly everyone's at home and we're all making 21 meals a week. Well, that's twice as much food. Like you just need way more food for that because food that you would normally get from maybe bars and cafes and restaurants have all closed or you would eat in the workplace, you would just pop over to the convenience store to get a sandwich in your lunch bake. Suddenly we don't have those sources anymore and we need way more food. So the demand has gone up with suddenly feeding whole families at home. If you're not used to cooking, difficult to estimate portion sizes, maybe just genuinely make a mistake in the amount of ingredients you need and buy more. I see a huge amount of extra food and on top of that we're told that we might, if we develop symptoms, we need to self isolate.


Speaker 1 (03:56):

And if we were in a household, we need to self isolate for seven days, but everyone else in the household needs to self isolate for 14 days because there's a seven day incubation period. So if my wife gets sick today, she needs to self isolate for a week, but then she might give it to me now and then I've got seven days, no symptoms. And then the seven days where I could develop the symptoms. So suddenly instead of going to the shops every day, we need to have enough stockpile to survive for two weeks, which if you're used to going to the shops every day can be a big scary thing. But also again, you just need loads more food. So it's not that people are being selfish and the holiday, it's that most of us genuinely just need way more food than we did before. And when you put them on top of the fact that supermarkets tend to run this just in time delivery where they've got all these complex and fragile supply chains that can easily break down if a lot of people are off sick.


Speaker 1 (04:57):

That explains why the suddenly no food on the shelves because supermarkets just can't scale it up like this. They don't have the stock rooms on site, they don't have the strong durable supply chains to replenish the food as fast as people genuinely need it. So I think the reason this is important because there's a lot of stuff going around now that showing the worst of humanity and that everyone is an asshole and they're just hoarding as much food as they can and being selfish and I don't think that's what's going on. I think people are being sensible. They're thinking, okay, if I get ill, I don't want to go out and affect other people, so I need to make sure I've got enough stockpiled that I can keep everyone else safe. It comes from a place of altruism and that's why people are buying more and that's why so-called panic buying is depleting the shelves. It's actually supermarket supply chains and not as strong as they could be and they can't cope.


Speaker 1 (06:00):

Now that's not to say that there isn't some psychological benefit to a mental health and stockpiling. Sometimes having a nice stockpile of stuff can make us feel better. Like I'm actually okay for toilet roll because I like having a ton of toilet roll in like juice. Normally when there's no pandemic, I would probably have 60 toilet rolls and why? Because they last forever. Like you can buy toilet rolls and they're still good in 10 years and several, why would you not have, why would you risk wanting up toilet? Well, when you can just have loads in and you just, you stick it in your bathroom and you never have to worry about being caught. Sure. So if you do find that you have something like that, then it can just make you feel better because why would you risk about it? So maybe that could be a little bit of stockpiling going on to make us feel better.


Speaker 1 (06:56):

And I don't think that you should necessarily be embarrassed about that. Like buy what you need. But if you're someone that just happens to have more stuff in because it makes them feel better normally, then that's totally fine. You shouldn't have to apologise for that. The reason that people are struggling to get stuff is to do with supply chains and supermarkets. It's not down to people being selfish. It's not down to people hoarding more than they need. So hopefully that's a, a nice bright side of humanity for you to take away today. We've got more covert 19 episodes coming out, so I hope you'll stick with us. Hit subscribe, stay strong, and I will see you soon.

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