COVID-19 Hoarding Craze: The Psychology Of Panic Buying

By Antonia Čirjak on March 20 2020 in Society

People everywhere are starting to face a problem they could not imagine in their dreams a few months ago.
People everywhere are starting to face a problem they could not imagine in their dreams a few months ago.
  • Shops in Malaysia have seen an 800% increase in weekly sales of hand sanitizer due to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Panic buying happens in times of a great crisis when people keep buying goods they think will be necessary for large quantities and leave other people that need those goods empty-handed.
  • Panic buying helps people feel like they are in control of the situation, and they want to do something dramatic as a response to all of the dramatic events happening.

All over the world, more and more consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak can be felt in numerous ways. One way that came unexpectedly was panic buying. People everywhere are starting to face a problem they could not imagine in their dreams a few months ago.

Going to the supermarket to get groceries is turning into an enormous ordeal. Something that should not last longer than a few minutes is turning into an ordeal that lasts for several hours because of the huge number of shoppers that are trying to stock up in the panic

Checkout lanes are filled with hundreds of people, but that is not the biggest issue. People are stocking up on certain things in fear of the virus, which makes it impossible for everyone to buy stuff like toilet paper, flour, or yeast. Other examples are rice and instant noodles that were flying off the shelves so fast in Singapore, that the prime minister had to assure people that there will be plenty for everyone.

Why Does Panic Buying Happen?

Everything we previously described is simply the consequence of panic buying. Panic buying is an interesting occurrence that mostly happens in the face of a crisis. Prices of goods that are essential during those times can go up drastically, and thereby people who need them the most might not be able to get them. Not only can the prices go up, but the goods can disappear from shelves for a while as well, making the situation even worse.

credit: Kevin McGovern / Shutterstock.com
Panic buying is an interesting occurrence that mostly happens in the face of a crisis. Image credit: Kevin McGovern / Shutterstock.com

Experts believe the explanation for this is simple. It lies in fear of the unknown and the belief that dramatic occurrences require a dramatic reaction. What makes this situation especially baffling is that in this case, the solution to our problem is quite simple - we need to wash our hands and avoid going into public places for a while. 

The Psychology Behind It

Panic buying is different from disaster preparation, according to experts. In the case of a natural catastrophe such as a hurricane, people are well aware of what they will need the most. However, the effects of this pandemic are not as clear, so this impulsive, panic buying is driven by uncertainty. Psychologists believe that panic buying is fuelled by the anxiety people feel in times like these, and their need to do anything not to feel afraid. This is why people are willing to stand in line for hours and buy a lot more goods than they probably need.

This is not the first time we are witnessing this phenomenon. One example that immediately falls to mind was the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 when people in the United States filled their basements with large amounts of food in fear of a nuclear war. Another one was the Y2K panic people experienced during the turn of the millennium. People hoarded everything, from food to cash in fear of a computer glitch happening that will crash the global market. 

The simplest way to explain panic buying is by saying that it helps people feel that they are in control of the situation. Even if the situation does not demand these measures realistically, people are subconsciously preparing for a larger disaster. This is why things like hand-washing seem like an ordinary solution to this pandemic. People are looking for dramatic responses, and panic buying fits the criteria, which is not good. Staying calm and acting responsibly is far more important than stockpiling toilet paper. Keep that in mind the next time you are in your supermarket.

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