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The City Journals

Residents express differing opinions about panic buying

Apr 02, 2020 10:54AM ● By Drew Crawford

Empty shelf aisles. (Drew Crawford/City Journals)

By Drew Crawford | [email protected]

Panic, confusion and self-isolation have become increasingly common scenes as the coronavirus has changed not just our way of living, but our perception of it.

Schools have closed, businesses have modified their operations, and consumers have begun behaving in erratic and unpredictable ways.

With toilet paper, sanitation supplies and groceries flying off of the shelf, one might wonder why panicked people began panic buying at grocery stores in the first place?

Pam Crotter, who is 61 and experiences underlying health conditions that puts her in the at-risk population, was shocked to see how much people were buying out of fear.

“The devastating thing was to see all of the canned and boxed good aisles — the whole aisles were just gone. I got one of the last loaves of bread. I mean it was 4 o’clock in the afternoon on Friday,” Crotter said. “People were just getting off of work and just starting to react to everything that got shut down that day.”

At the store, Crotter realized that people were hoarding an excessive amount of supplies, with consequences that could affect vulnerable populations and those who were the most at need of them.

Even though this could potentially have a great impact on her, Crotter’s first instinct was to think the risks that this type of consumption has on other people.

“That’s the hard thing is to see how uncaring society is being about taking everyone into account. Like buying that hand sanitizer and toilet paper, not to think about all the elderly people and all the immune compromised people. There are little babies that are on (tracheal tubes) and older people that are at home that do self-care, they can’t get distilled water because when people are running out of the bottle, they are buying distilled water too. They’re just buying it all!” Crotter said.

As people hoard supplies and buy excessively there is a chance that they might forget that there are essential goods that compromised groups must have.

“There’s different medical conditions that you need distilled water for, not just (tracheal tubes). You have to clean home nebulizers for asthma and lung conditions, and they’re having a hard time getting those supplies. It’s risking people’s lives this craziness. And it’s just like: why do you need that much toilet paper?” Crotter said.

Fortunately, Crotter has been a witness to the kindness of others amid the panic buying.

“That’s one good thing that I noticed is that I probably had five people reach out to me yesterday on social media or call me and ask me if I needed anything. They were off work for the day and asked me if I needed anything,” Crotter said.

According to clinical psychologist Steven Taylor, consumer behavior changes during pandemics because of anticipatory anxiety and fear. People perceive that they might be in danger because of the things that they see and hear around them.

They see others taking drastic precautionary measures such as buying a three-month supply of food or 50 cases of toilet paper. Their minds then turns toward what they can do to protect their families, and they view the danger around them as a perceived threat.

However, it is important to recognize this psychology at play and not just react based on emotion.

At the Smith’s on 922 E. 2100 South employees who spoke on conditions of anonymity said that the store had been relatively calm from the time that the buying en masse had ensued. No fights for items or mass hysteria had occurred during the shopping experience, however, there was still an unusually large number of shoppers at the store on Sunday, March 15, with around 200 shoppers buying toiletries at 11 a.m.

In their opinion, the two employees at the Smith’s felt that the panic buying was the result of fear stoked by the news cycle.

“They’re panicking for no reason, they’re just paranoid. The media just (is) saying you need to get this, this, and this, instead of listening to the CDC who actually know what the virus is, they’re just panicking,” they explained, saying that people should just stay calm and help others as much as they can. “They’re just saying the worst-case scenario instead of actually helping prepare people for this,” they said.

The employees feel that elderly people and the at-risk population should take necessary precautions, but that everyone else should just stay calm. They don’t see the situation at Smith’s getting worse because the supply of product is being ordered in quantities that are expected to keep up with the demand. Smith’s has adjusted its normal hours in order to prepare the store for people buying.

Another shopper at the store, Arjun Gopal, who is in his 20s, came to the Smith’s for his routine grocery shopping trip.

“It is a bad flu for people our age, for people under 40 it’s going to be a normal flu, so there’s no point in stocking up so much,” Gopal said. “I think it’s because of a few people who want to be prepared for all kinds of situations, and then other people see them doing things and posting things online. People are like sheep: one person does something and everyone else wants to do the same thing and follow the part. I feel like it’s just a few people igniting everyone else, and then just everyone else following through.”

As one might surmise there are plenty of attitudes on what consumer behavior should be during the time of crisis. With so many different voices, opinions and information on the topic, what should one’s approach actually be?

The truth of the matter is that there is plenty of supply to meet the demand for groceries and toiletries, and if people resist buying excessively then there will be plenty to go around.

The temporary shortage of some groceries and other supplies is a result of a sudden upsurge in demand driven by panic. In response to this, supply chains are ramping up their production and hours to make sure that the demand for food is adequately met.

The United States Department of Homeland Security has recommended that during a pandemic a household should stock up on two week’s supply of food.

They also advise households to have a continuous supply of prescription drugs and to make sure that they have any nonprescription drugs and health supplies on hand, including pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes and vitamins.

Additionally, stores like Smith’s are adjusting their hours to provide adequate time to restock shelves. On March 16, they released a press release stating that they are creating a senior shopping hour from 7-8 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday to help provide the at-risk population with the time that they need.

“Smith’s wants to provide these at-risk customers with the ability to purchase the items they need to avoid busier and more crowded shopping times. We request that customers respect these hours for the health of our community during this time of uncertainty,” the press release said.

Much can be expected to change during the coronavirus pandemic, and it is important to follow the advice of officials and the proper experts to stay informed on how to be prepared. For the latest updates on how to prepare yourself and protect others visit The Center for Disease Control website at www.cdc.gov.