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What We Can Learn From Panic Grocery Runs In The Times Of Covid-19

“Panic buying” has unfortunately become a huge issue ever since lockdown began globally in March; from supermarket shelves being stripped of toilet paper rolls to hand sanitisers running out of stock. Picking up 2 of each one of your essentials during your average monthly grocery run was always the norm but when that number multiplies to more than x3 per family with 8 out of 10 buyers participating in the same habit, then that practice is considered socially irresponsible. 

When lockdown began, products such as pasta, toilet paper and orange juice were a popular choice on most grocery lists — most of which flew off the shelves in an instant. This made disgruntled shoppers take to social media and sharing photos of empty supermarket counters to denounce others of acting selfishly by panic buying. Social psychology research suggests that there are two main motives for ‘panic buying’ behaviour – greed and fear. We’re all aware that when feeling greedy, individuals are unconcerned with others and take what they want to benefit themselves. Fear, however is a lot more complicated than that. In this case, individuals may wish to act in a socially-responsible manner, but are worried that others will not. If they shop sparingly and others hoard, they will be left with the worst outcome, the so-called “sucker’s payoff” — the belief that others are acting selfishly can often exacerbate those tendencies in others. It is that very fear-based shopping practice that has snowballed into irrational buying behaviour during the pandemic that has led to not only a shortage but also forced suppliers to inflate food prices. 

Image Credit: The conscious consumption fulfilment curve (Treehugger)

While the sudden surge in grocery pricing and restocking may have revealed a deeper issue within global supply chains, this is no excuse to condone hoarding. This is where the act of ‘conscious consumption’ comes in. Conscious consumption is an umbrella term that means engaging in the economy with more awareness of how your consumption impacts society at large. Shopping sustainably with the intent to preserve the environment is one of the many ways one can consume more consciously but so is making better purchasing decisions by buying only what you need. If the psychology behind panic buying has taught us anything, its that it takes just one act by an individual for a snowball effect to take place — similarly if our shopping carts got leaner, it wouldn’t take long before that act of consciousness followed suit. 

Published by: Vibhuti Vazirani/ 2020-05-26

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