The spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, has had widespread effects on the global community. From drastic stock market drops to the mass closure of venues and cancellation of major events, the pandemic's reach has been unparalleled. Amid the global panic, however, a phenomenon has taken hold; the puzzling rush to supermarkets and wholesale stores to stock up on any items possible, with the odd top seller being toilet paper.
Supermarket rushes while a disaster looms are nothing new and are typically associated with natural disasters such as snowstorms or hurricanes.
The market rush during the coronavirus pandemic is largely unprecedented, especially considering no such phenomenon occurred during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. The phenomenon begs the obvious question, why the rush to supermarkets, and why the rush to specific items, especially toilet paper?
Experts have weighed in on the peculiar phenomenon, and for the most part, the consensus is that the rush is mostly driven by fear, but several specific factors are at play in the fear-based reaction. Part of the drive to rush markets is a form of "retail therapy," according to Paul Marsden of the University of Arts London. "It's about 'taking back control' in a world where you feel out of control," says Marsden, "More generally, panic buying can be understood as playing to our three fundamental psychology needs."
The shortage of items such as hand sanitizer, antibacterial soap, and face masks are somewhat understandable given the pandemic. To a degree, it is understandable that some people may seek to stock up on food and water, given that they may be forced to remain indoors for an extended period. The peculiarity that has stood out during the Coronavirus supermarket rush is the odd prioritization of toilet paper. Uncertainty and a desire for control compound to help create this bizarre situation, according to Dimitrios Tsivrikos of the University College London. "In times of uncertainty, people enter a panic zone that makes them irrational and completely neurotic. In other disaster conditions like a flood, we can prepare because we know how many supplies we need, but we have a virus now we know nothing about." Said Tsivrikos. Tsivrikos noted that the rush to toilet paper may be related to the general desire to stock up in high volumes and that the large packaging of toilet paper may attract panicked shoppers who are looking to stock up and regain a sense of control.
While many experts are directly advising against supermarket rushes, there seems to be a split between whether Americans should stock up on essential items. The Department of Homeland Security, for example, has recommended that Americans ensure that they have a two-week supply of water and food, along with necessary medical supplies. Others believe that business as usual is the only course of action required. The lack of a consensus from the Federal Government is a contributing factor to the panic felt by Americans and is helping drive supermarket rushes.
The effects of the supermarket rushes are being felt across the country; wholesalers such as Costco