Why toilet roll is the latest panic purchase of the coronavirus crisis

Supermarket shelves empty as people stockpile toilet paper in a bid to prepare for potential coronavirus lockdown.

Diarrhoea is an extremely rare symptom of coronavirus, but toilet rolls are flying off the shelves across Spain.

Experts say that it is the need for a feeling of control that is encouraging excessive toilet roll purchasing. 

According to Paul Marsden, a consumer psychologist at the University of the Arts London, this panic product purchasing process is down to the psychology of “retail therapy” - the process of purchasing products to help manage the emotional state.

He refers to panic buying as an example of people trying to “take back control” in a world where situations are seemingly becoming more out of control. 

According to Dimitrios Tsivrikos, lecturer in consumer and business psychology at University College London, toilet paper has become a “symbol” of mass panic.

He explains that psychologically speaking, when a person enters a supermarket - they are primarily looking for value and high volumes. He suggests that people are drawn to the large packaging that toilet paper comes in when they are looking to regain a sense of control. This could be the reason that this particular product has disappeared from many supermarket shelves. He also suggests that a lack of a clear voice from government officials is likely to be fuelling the general purchasing panic. 

no toilet roll in valencia
Supermarket shelves in Valencia wiped clear of toilet rolls.

Social media is awash with images and videos of empty shelves and panic shoppers with trolleys filled to the brim. 

Other items reported as in short supply include: hand sanitiser, pasta, tinned foods and fresh meat. 

Some supermarkets in Madrid have reported queues with up to a hundred people at one time.

Mercadona holds the largest share of the grocery retail market in Spain and president Juan Roig recently called for calm after this rise in impulse buying.

The Association of Distributors to which Mercadona belongs to reported: “Spain has one of the most efficient food distributions in Europe with equipment prepared to face extraordinary situations. It is not necessary to stock up on basic products since Spanish businesses are prepared to guarantee the service.”

Products continue to be evenly distributed across all 24,300 supermarkets and hypermarkets across Spain - with a store ratio of one to 2,000 citizens.

Despite consistent warnings and advice that the current coronavirus threat will not stop the supply of products to supermarkets, similar scenarios have been seen in other countries such as the UK, Australia and the USA.

With the lack of reported symptoms requiring an above-average amount of toilet roll, we remain confused as to what people are doing with it, or where it’s being stored… 

Panic purchasing simply creates further alarm and heightened concern. At a time when the world needs to work together and remain calm and responsible, it is important to monitor purchasing behaviour.

Don’t be selfish and buy more than is necessary.


*NB. this article was written as a commentary with the only intents and purposes to make readers laugh. 

Katie Burt

Katie Burt

When not found with a laptop at my fingertips, it's likely I'll be running, swimming, attempting to cycle or seeking out decent coffee.

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