Toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and long-lasting goods. These are the things that we know coronavirus panic buyers want. They buy them in packs. They buy them in pallets. And supermarket shelves end up empty.
But not completely empty! Some poor items get left behind. Things that even panic-driven preppers don’t want. What are these things? We’re so glad you asked. Bored Panda compiled a list of the things that get left behind on supermarket shelves, from Hawaiian pizza (pineapples and ham, anyone?) to chocolate hummus. So scroll down and leave a comment below about what unwanted goods you’ve seen left behind in shops.
From what we’ve seen so far, strange brands and peculiar foods like weird-flavored potato chips (not to mention Corona beer) seem to get left behind. But what flies off the shelves like hot buns is toilet paper. But why is that?
Well, this mass buying of products is related to two things: anxiety (buying things tricks us into thinking we have things under control) and the fear of missing out (or FOMO). Massively buying TP obviously doesn’t make sense. It has more to do with herd mentality than with rational thinking.
“What you've got to remember is that when 50 packs of toilet paper rolls disappear off shelves, you really notice it because they take up so much room. It's much more noticeable than say 50 cans of baked beans or hand sanitizer disappearing," Professor Debra Grace from Griffith University told the BBC.
Meanwhile, Associate Professor Nitika Garg from the University of New South Wales explained that seeing this scarcity makes us believe that the missing product is much more valuable than it really is.
"They think if this person is buying it, if my neighbor is buying there's got to be a reason and I need to get in too," she said. Garg also pointed out that people believe that TP can be used for pretty much everything: from tissues and napkins to “makeshift masks.”
Dr. Rohan Miller from the University of Sydney believes that because we’re not used to scarcity or shortages, we want to maintain the same lifestyle during the coronavirus crisis. “The rush to get toilet paper is just this sheep mentality to maintain that status. I think people want to make sure they have some comforts in their lives if they're going to be shacked up with their family for a long time," he told the BBC.
"Toilet paper doesn't really matter—it's just so far down the survival list compared to other things like food or water—but it's just something people cling to as a minimum standard."
Bored Panda spoke with David Savage, associate professor of behavioral and microeconomics at the University of Newcastle in Australia, about how uncertainty and a lack of information lead to stockpiling and hoarding supplies.
“Uncertainty is the starting point, but what the general public is dealing with at the moment is ambiguity, that is people do not know what it is that they do not know! They are uncertain if or when the virus will spread to the region, they do not know if they themselves will be infected, which also means they do not know if they need to go into isolation and need several weeks’ worth of supplies,” Dr. Savage explained the current conundrum affecting some countries around the world.
“The problem is not necessarily that people wish to stock up or prepare for a likely pandemic, rather the problem is that people are uncertain about the future and, if they are risk-averse, are more than likely going to overstock more than they require.”
He continued: “Of course, overstocking [i.e. stockpiling] has a knock-on effect such that the greater the number of individuals who are overstocking the more likely it is that supermarkets will run out of stock and end up with empty shelves. This will cause a feedback loop for the individual confirming what they already believe to be true and make them more willing to stock up.”
According to Dr. Savage, stockpiling also leads to an additional problem: it limits the availability of goods to disadvantaged groups, such as the poor and the elderly. “While this may not directly add to the further spread of the virus it may create a problem in the future when the pandemic is in full swing and the individual runs out of certain goods forcing them to leave the safety of their home and enter the public arena which may expose them to the virus.”
“Uncertainty and a lack of information are the true enemies in regard to public behavior. It is what we don't understand that we fear and what we do not know that creates bias. The best solution may well be as simple as public education campaigns delivered in the simplest way possible and framed in a positive light rather than a negative one.”