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Why Australians are panic buying toilet roll

Panic buying

Stockpiling or panic buying is a change in buyer behaviour triggered by fear. And how do you beat fear? By being aware of your emotions and choosing to be calm, disciplined and logical in your behaviour and consumer choices.

It’s been a long weekend I could have done without. As someone who works full-time, I did my normal Saturday morning shop with the view of buying our usual toilet roll pack.

What greeted me instead was empty shelves. The stock pilers had got there first.

I went back that day – still nothing. Even at 7am the next day when the doors opened, the shelves were still bare and this time, they’d taken all the tissue boxes.

So why could I suddenly not buy any toilet roll in Australia in 2020?

It’s because people were stock piling. Stock piling or panic buying is when people rush buy more than they usually would of a product so that they have this product in storage if a crisis happens.

We can all be stock pilers when the right crisis emerges. And emerge it did, in the form of the coronavirus.

If orange is the new black, think of coronavirus as the new SARS, swine flu or bird flu.

It’s another virus in the news that will mean the death of a few and the panic of many who in their panic, find themselves at the supermarket, panic buying or stock piling household essentials.

But what does stock piling look like?

  • If you buy your weekly shop as normal, there is zero impact.
  • However, if you normally one pack of toilet roll and choose to buy a second “just in case”, you increase demand by 100%.
  • If you choose to buy 2 extra packs than you normally do, then you’re increasing demand by 200%.
  • And for those simply must buy your 4 extra packs than normal, you’re creating an increase of 400% demand for toilet roll.

Both major Australian supermarkets, Coles and Woolworths had to introduce a 4 pack limit on toilet paper, which indicates that many Australians were buying far more than they normally do. You only need a few people to buy more than 4 pack of toilet roll each and you have a shortage on your hands.

The behaviour of one mother and daughter who not only filled up their trolley past its brim with toilet roll but then physically attacked a woman who took just one for herself was the height of selfishness. It shows the worst of us to the world in sharp contrast to the ongoing bushfire recovery response which showed how we could come together as a community.

This panic buying behaviour also impacts people in our community who can’t afford to stock pile.

  • Some of our community are on an incredibly limited budget or living week to week and can’t afford to alter their grocery budget or spend more to travel to different supermarkets in search of basic household items.
  • Some of us in emergency or temporary accommodation do not have the security of space to hoard items.
  • And some of us with reduced mobility, are not able to race to the shops and fight to secure a basic dignity like toilet paper.

In short, the behaviour and choices of a few impacts us all.

But what drives people to rush to the supermarkets and panic buy?

Well people resort to stock piling behaviours because they’re anxious and scared. And it’s no wonder why they feel scared with the headlines about coronavirus being designed to shock and serve as click bait across multiple news providers.

So, is there actually a shortage of toilet paper?

Actually no – many toilet paper producers, including our local producers of products like Kleenex, VIVA, and Kimberley-Clark have ramped up their 24 hour production.

The issue is that supermarkets only hold 100-250 packets of toilet paper in their one dedicated aisle and most supermarkets don’t have a huge amount of reserves.

And when ordinary people see the shelves left completely free of any trace of toilet paper, they panic and buy more when they see it, filling up their trollies because of a fear of missing out. That in turn, causes more of a perceived shortage because there is less available for other buyers on the shelves.

Panic buying quickly becomes a downward spiral because people are driven by fear. Fear of missing out is driving their behaviour.

And how do you beat fear? You beat fear the way any investor goes about investing: Disciplined behaviour and logic.

Responding to mass panic with calm logic is easier said than done. Indeed, I even had a hard time remaining calm when after multiple supermarket visits, my online supermarket order was downgraded to a considerably smaller pack of toilet roll than I normally buy. Yes, having to manage with whatever toilet roll I could get wasn’t something I would expect to happen in 2020. However, those were the circumstances I found myself in. I could choose to stamp my feet but it wouldn’t be fair to or the fault of the shop assistants, trying to manage uncontrolled panic buyers. It was the fault of those choosing to act out of fear.

When I finally picked up my toilet roll, the shop assistant joked that I would be mugged for it on my way out of the store. It was intended to be light hearted but made me dart a bit more quickly out the store after having just seen viral videos of shoppers fighting in the aisles or slapping each other across the face because a panic buyer was filling up their trolley and another shopper fought back.

It’s OK to feel anxious and many of us may have felt the temptation to panic buy after seeing supermarket headlines, fearing whether our family would have enough. I get that feeling, I’ve felt it. However, you are still a member of a broader community and every adult must stop to think about your behaviour before you act because it ultimately impacts on others.

Before you do your next supermarket shop, consider the following:
  • If you fear the need to self-isolate, the responsible reaction is to buy a fortnight’s worth of toilet paper – not 6 months’ worth like many are currently indulging in.
  • Don’t excuse your behaviour by buying way too much toilet paper and telling yourself that you’ll share it with your family or give it to your neighbours. You probably won’t.
  • Be aware of your emotions, recognise how you’re feeling and ensure you’re in control of your feelings before you act on them
  • Look at the different segments of the community that stock piling is currently impacting and consider how you can make a difference to ensure they are supported at times like this when they may also be feeling the same fear you are.

The reason people are struggling to buy toilet paper right now is down to…us.

Our behaviour is driving the shortage and we owe it to other members of our community to be responsible in our thinking and make logical choices like adults, scary headlines or not.

And if it’s truly the end of the world (which it so clearly isn’t)?

Then you’d be better off buying up champagne and chocolate and actually enjoying yourself rather than rationing out toilet roll.

Read more: How to talk to your partner about money

Kate Crowhurst

Written by Kate Crowhurst

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