Panic buying

Why are people hoarding toilet paper


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PANIC BUYING. Throughout the past month or so, people all around the world have been visiting grocery stores and bought out most supplies related to the prevention of coronavirus such as hand sanitizer or face masks. However, even though toilet paper doesn’t really help us in any way against the coronavirus, both its intrinsic and extrinsic value seemed to jump up. But why? Is it a mentality that you need to take some action when the world is out of control? Or other reasons such as logistics?

   People all around the world have been panic buying countless items recently, namely canned goods, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper. What has stood out the most, however, is the stockpiling of toilet paper, as we see the toilet paper shelves being emptied in almost every supermarket here in the U.S. and abroad. But toilet paper does not really have much to do with the coronavirus, unlike hand sanitizer and other disinfecting products that clean and prevent the coronavirus from affecting you. 

   Canned goods help people get through hard times when they cannot go outside to buy fresh food anymore. Toilet paper follows the same logic as canned or non-perishable stocks, but why are specifically the toilet paper shelves empty all the time?

   People have been hoarding toilet paper to the extent that most stores have run out of stock. While shelves remain empty, websites like Urban Survival have written articles titled “15 ways to wipe your butt when the toilet paper is gone”. Even an armed robbery has occurred due to how “valuable” toilet paper has become.

   It is actually interesting psychology—because frankly, there’s no major use of storing toilet paper in this situation. People get in the mindset that they need to panic buy, as a huge pandemic just hit us—even when authorities are assuring the public that there’s no need to do so.

   CNBC writes that “It’s about ‘taking back control’ in a world where you feel out of control. More generally, panic buying can be understood as playing to our psychology needs.”

   It leads one to wonder: out of all things people can panic buy, why toilet paper in particular? 

   This pandemic has pressured people to over-prepare for everything and since toilet paper is one of the cheapest things in stores, people have resorted to buying toilet paper to resolve and satisfy their want to panic buy.

   As the demand for toilet paper starts to grow, the value of it seems to grow exponentially too. Because of how “scarce” it is now, people have assigned human value to toilet paper. Hearing the news or radio report on how toilet paper is running out, people find it even more important to buy the product. Looking at half-emptied shelves and seeing people around you grabbing as much as they can hold, one would definitely be urged to go for an extra two rolls before checking out. This has led to the situation now where something that used to be worth as little as one dollar has increased value both intrinsically and extrinsically.

   One final explanation from a logistics point of view: it simply takes longer for stores to replenish toilet paper shelves. Toilet paper rolls are bulky and take a lot of warehousing space, so most stores are not sitting on lots of immediately available stocks. Therefore, the chances of seeing empty toilet paper shelves are far more likely than seeing other non-perishable goods’ shelves, feeding back to the psychology of panic buying.