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Why is toilet paper out of stock around the world during the coronavirus outbreak?

Why is toilet paper out of stock around the world during the coronavirus outbreak?

Ok, I am not going to fuss around the issue. The question is simple, but the internet is oozing with self-proclaimed behavioral scientists answering the question and it's hard to find a good, scientific answer to the query, so here goes:

Why are the toilet paper shelves out of stock around the world?


A lot of articles on the internet seem to lead back and quote this article from "The Conversation". Their slogan is "Academic rigour, journalistic flair", but I don't know the site and so what do you think of it?


In simple terms, demand for toilet paper increased and supply was unable to scale up.

  • The supply chain for toilet paper is unable to rapidly scale up production to the levels required to meet the large increase in demand.
  • Most supermarkets (at least where I live) seem to be unwilling to increase the prices of toilet paper in order for supply and demand to equalise. Presumably, if the price of toilet paper in supermarkets was increased by 4 or 5 times (or perhaps more), we would eventually reach a point where toilet paper would be in stock. However, supermarkets would be accused of price gouging in a crisis, which would be bad for publicity (as well as people unable to afford toilet paper).

So why did demand increase?

  • Toilet paper is not perishable. Thus, people can buy huge amounts of toilet paper and they will eventually be able to use it.
  • There are few substitutes for toilet paper. There are items like tissues, paper towels, wet wipes, and bidets, but these are not great substitutes for most people, and in some cases, these are out of stock also. In contrast, while food is essential, people are able to eat a wide range of different foods.
  • Toilet paper is also an essential item. For most people the perceived cost of being without toilet paper is quite high. Thus, if people perceive there is a chance that they could run out, this is more likely to trigger an increase in their demand (to stock up).
  • As noted below, more people are using toilet paper at home rather than at outside the home (e.g., work, school, etc.).

Presumably, the increase in demand is triggered by the sum of the knowledge and motives of the many economic actors in a society.

  • Some people might be rationally thinking that it would be wise to stock up on toilet paper if they might be going into lockdown soon.
  • A desire to stockpile will further increase when people see that if they don't stockpile, they are more likely to run out of toilet paper. Presumably, international media and social media would help ignite the stock-piling and then the empty shelves and the associated media coverage further increase demand. So, shortages create even more shortages.
  • I'm not really clear on whether third parties are stockpiling toilet paper to sell at inflated prices. But it seems like normal rational behaviour (perhaps selfish when taken to extremes) can explain what is going on without the need for reference to such third party actors.

So, I'm inclined to think that normal rational economic behaviour combined with failures in the supply chain and an unwillingness to raise prices in response is the main explanation.


Latest Updates

But it’s clear that the retailers, even those with experience in dealing with crisis-related demand before a hurricane or a blizzard, are being tested as demand surges across the country all at once.

Walmart said it was adjusting its supply routes to keep up. The company is picking up many high-demand products at factories and shipping them in trucks directly to stores, bypassing regional distribution centers.

The frenzied buying was even acknowledged Friday in the Rose Garden, where President Trump stood next to the executives of major retailers including Walmart.

“Toilet paper is not an effective way to prevent getting the coronavirus, but they’re selling out,” the health secretary, Alex M. Azar II, said.

People have been sharing images of toilet paper shortages and other empty shelves at Giant Eagle, a private grocery chain that has more than 400 locations and is based in Pittsburgh.

The chain said it had been working to increase the frequency of deliveries of “essential items” to stores and asked corporate employees to assist in stores, where other employees are stocking shelves and fulfilling curbside pickup and delivery orders.

All Giant Eagles have begun to temporarily limit toilet paper purchases to three packages per customer, Dick Roberts, a company spokesman, said in an email.

The vast majority of toilet paper consumed by Americans is made in North America. But about 10 percent of the giant rolls of paper that are used to make the rolls that end up in American bathrooms come from China and India. Those imports have been delayed because of the broader bottleneck of shipments from Asia, as the region begins to recover from the virus outbreak and factories come back online.

Joe Raccuia, chief executive of Morcon Tissue, which makes toilet paper in plants across the United States, said his supplier in Mexico had warned him about delays.

“It’s a matter of weeks, not months,” said Mr. Raccuia, who sells his toilet paper mostly to hotels and restaurants.

It’s not just toilet paper that people are stockpiling, of course. Weeks ago, there were shortages of hand sanitizer. By Friday, the panic buying had extended to bottled water and thermometers.

Popular thermometers, like those sold under the Vicks brand, were listed as out of stock on the websites of retailers like Target, Walmart, CVS, Walgreens and Staples.

Even on Amazon, the options were grim. For example, a Vicks ComfortFlex thermometer that was listed for about $10 on Walmart’s website was being sold by two sellers on Amazon for at least $40, and could not be delivered for at least a week — a far cry from Amazon’s usual advantages on price and speed.


Coronavirus: 11 psychological reasons why we hoard toilet paper in a crisis

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages, frantic shoppers everywhere are stocking up for the long road ahead. Canned goods, hand sanitizer, cleaning products, bottled water are all hot-ticket items.

But there is perhaps nothing in so high demand as toilet paper.

Turns out the sudden, desperate need to have ALL THE TOILET PAPER regardless of actual need is one of the unlikely consequences of the very things that make humans human.

To discover why we tend to hoard a product we don't actually need to survive in tough times, Inverse spoke to seven experts from across the fields of marketing and business, psychology and sociology, and consumer behavior.

Here are the 11 reasons why humans the world over panic-buy toilet roll in a crisis.

11. It’s perceived as a basic necessity

Turns out toilet paper tends to be among the first things people feel they need in case of danger, or confinement.

“Toilet paper is strongly associated with “basic necessities,” more so than tissue paper or shampoo, for example," Ayelet Fishbach, professor of behavioral science and marketing at Chicago Booth University, tells Inverse.

"When people get the memo that they should stock up on necessities, toilet paper is going to be one of the first things that comes to their mind."

That ranks it up there with food and water, Fishbach explains.

10. Humans fear the unknown

Fear of the unknown is one of the greatest drivers for panic.

As Gerald Keush, professor of medicine and international health at Boston University, tells Inverse, part of the reason why we get ourselves worked up in these situations is our fault. The narratives we have around pandemics — whether from Hollywood films or popular literature — tend to depict disaster, death, and devastation.

These are “unrealistic, full of errors and disinformation, designed for the box office, and not to convey information," Keush says. But as inaccurate as they may be, these stories have a pernicious effect on our ability to cope with unknowns.

“There is always fear including fear of the unknown when something like this outbreak happens,” Keush says. Part of the problem, at least in the United States, also stems from the lack of a solid, factual narrative alternative, he says.

“It is also happening because leadership at the very top of the US government has been so incredibly bad, biased, and empty of believable messages.”

9. We need a sense of control

Hoarding can be a means of exerting control.

“Even though digestive issues do not seem to be linked to COVID-19, remember that people are not always rational,” Patricia Huddleston, professor of retailing at Michigan University, tells Inverse.

“People are scared, and when there is fear, we try to exert some control over our environment. Making sure that we have enough of a basic necessity is one way to calm fear and exert control," she says.

8. Toilet paper is symbolic

“In North America, there wasn’t much concern about the virus. People didn’t see much chance of it happening to them nor did they see the consequences as troublesome,” Ronald Mackerville, professor of recreation and leisure studies at University of Waterloo, says.

“Then people started posting images of shoppers at Costco, etc, stocking up on toilet paper. It became the symbol of what was to come.”

In combination with images of people in China being isolated in their homes on short notice, these messages hit home, he explains.

“If social media had focused instead on images of lines at gas stations, or empty shelves of canned goods, or coolers emptied of dairy products, we might have seen very different behavior," he says.

7. It provides a sense of hygiene

According to medicine professor Keush, it’s because the message of how to actually get rid of the virus is mangled, therefore people just resort to hygiene overall.

“What is important is hand hygiene, and maybe that message is being confused with the fear that there won’t be any toilet paper. The thinking might be how can I maintain hand hygiene if I run out of toilet paper,” Keush tells Inverse.

6. We anticipate others' behavior

“People hoard because they anticipate that others will anticipate a shortage and therefore will hoard,” Fishbach explains.

“And so, even if I don’t anticipate a shortage, if I anticipate that you anticipate a shortage, I should buy some extra rolls. I can even anticipate that you anticipate that someone anticipates there will be a shortage, and I would still buy some extra rolls.”

“It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Fishbach says.

5. FOMO

Basically, there is "a fear of missing out,” Sylvain Senecal, professor of marketing at HEC Montreal University, tells Inverse.

“If media reports that people are stocking up on toilet paper, [others] will be motivated to do the same even if they cannot objectively explain why they do so.”

Although this behavior isn’t rational, once it starts, people buy more than they need because they fear a shortage later. As a result, shortages occur because people buy more than they need, Huddleston explains. It is yet another self-fulfilling prophecy, known as the "scarcity effect."

The current rush on toilet roll is a prime example of the scarcity effect in action, according to Manoj Thomas, professor of marketing at Cornell University, tells Inverse.

“The scarcity effect is a well-established phenomenon in consumer behavior, which states that perceived scarcity will increase the value of an item,” Thomas says.

4. We're suckers for potent packaging

Turns out the packaging has to do with our panic, too.

“The tendency to hoard toilet paper during this pandemic is completely irrational, triggered solely by the bulky packaging size of toilet papers,” Thomas says. “Toilet paper packs are one of the bulkiest items in a grocery store.”

The packs' bulky size have two important implications, Thomas explains.

Retailers typically have less stock of toilet paper relative to other, smaller household products, such as soaps and detergents. When 20 or 30 customers buy toilet paper, the retail shelves start looking empty, creating a visual cue of scarcity, he says.

“This observation then creates panic buying.”

3. We’re worried there is no other option

“While the US supply chains are secure and have been working, I think that there is a lack of trust in both government and business in the way that the coronavirus crisis is unfolding,” Huddleston says.

Just look at other essential hygiene items, Huddleston says.

“You asked why people are not stockpiling body wash — one reason is that there are alternatives to body wash. Bar soap for example.”

2. We look out for Number One

For a small segment of consumers, there may be a way to profit off buying up toilet roll now, Huddleston says. Although it isn't entirely ethical.

“We have seen price gouging on Amazon for things like hand sanitizer, up to $350 for a two pack, so some people may hope for a shortage and then make some sort of profit.”

1. It's cultural

Although toilet paper is in high demand in the US, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and some Asian countries, the perception of what a basic necessity is likely varies between cultures.

For example, in Italy, people have been hoarding pasta, not toilet paper.

“In Israel (where I come from) shelf-stable milk is considered a necessity,” Fishbach says. Fishbach doesn't live in Israel, however — he lives in Chicago, where the cultural norms are a little different.

“My first intuition was to buy a few cartons in case there will be a shortage. But then I remembered it’s not even a product that sells very much in Chicago, and clearly Americans aren’t going to hoard it.”

Should you buy toilet paper?

It may be irrational, but many of the experts we spoke to didn't find the drive to panic-buy toilet paper in a crisis overly strange or unusual.

"You're overthinking this,” Lee Clarke, professor of sociology at Rutgers University, tells Inverse.

“You call it hoarding, as do others, but it's just buying enough to last… who knows how long the paper is supposed to last?”

Ultimately, the empty shelves may not show the effects of hoarding — instead they show inadequate supplies, he says.

When Inverse asked about alternatives to toilet paper, like showering or using a bidet, Clarke explains why these options don't make the cut for the majority of people used to wiping.

“One could shower every time, but people are trying to maintain some sense of normalcy and women don't normally shower after every urination," Clarke says.

"One might shower after every defecation, but I doubt most people do that, though it's true I don't have data on shitting after showering, and it can't be good for the plumbing.”

“They never show this problem in, say, The Walking Dead, but those people would stink to high heaven if they were real.”


What's the difference between toilet paper at home and at work?

One kind of bath tissue – for the commercial market – often is made of one ply of recycled fiber and generally is found on rollers at businesses and public places. The other kind – retail toilet paper – is often made of two-ply virgin fiber and is generally much softer for use at home.

This location shift prompted by shelter-at-home rules would lead to an estimated 40% increase over the average daily home usage, according to Georgia-Pacific, which makes Quilted Northern toilet paper and other paper products.

The demand has “increased on retail, and it’s staying steady or surged in the commercial market” because of use at busy health care facilities and other essential businesses, said Eric Abercrombie, spokesman for Georgia-Pacific, based in Atlanta. Abercrombie said the company still expects commercial-market toilet paper demand to decline as “business and vacation plans change.”

Meanwhile, retail toilet paper demand swelled to unforeseen heights in March, with $1.45 billion in toilet paper sales in the four-week period ending March 29, up 112% from a year earlier, according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm. Retail stores couldn’t keep enough supply on the shelves, and the supply chain became strained by the demand.

Shoppers worried about coronavirus are stocking up on toilet paper, hand sanitizer and other supplies even though supply chain experts say there's no need. (Photo: Ryan Ozawa via Storyful)

The supply chain for toilet paper “is not built for dramatic shifts and seasonal demand changes,” said Scott Luton, the CEO and founder of Supply Chain Now, a digital media company. “It’s not like pumpkins during the fall and chicken wings during the Super Bowl.”

Luton also notes that repurposing commercial-market toilet paper to retail shelves “is not simple to do,” even with stocks of it sitting untouched in storage rooms of closed businesses.


The hidden motive behind people’s urge to buy toilet paper amid coronavirus crisis

Australians have gone crazy buying toilet paper amid fears over coronavirus. Experts explain why this is the one item we stocked up on.

The coronavirus outbreak has left Aussies fighting for a number of everyday household foods and items.

The coronavirus outbreak has left Aussies fighting for a number of everyday household foods and items.

One man loads up on toilet paper at the Coles Express petrol station in Five Dock, saying he’s stocking up ’just in case they run out, I haven't been able to buy any, everyone else is buying it’. Picture: Bill Hearne Source:News Corp Australia

As coronavirus continues to spread around the world, anxiety is rising in Australia.

Shoppers fearful of quarantine measures have been stocking up on supplies to last out a week or two of isolation.

Recent days have seen reports of shortages of hand sanitiser and warnings that batteries and other electronic items could be next. However, the surge in demand for one particular commodity has seen supermarket shelves stripped bare: toilet paper.

It’s not just Australians. Shops in Japan, the US and New Zealand have also run low on the precious sanitary rolls. In Hong Kong, ambitious thieves held up a supermarket to steal a delivery.

But why toilet paper? The question has been in the air for at least the past month, but it’s now become hard to avoid. We asked four experts for their thoughts.

Why toilet paper. Same happened in QLD floods (2010), first thing to go was toilet paper. Some sort of instinctive reaction to supply disruption? Come next catastrophe (whatever it may be) I'm investing in toilet paper manufacturershttps://t.co/wmNzmzP5bY

— Rabee Tourky (@RabeeTourky) February 8, 2020

Dr Niki Edwards, School of Public Health and Social Work, Queensland University of Technology told The Conversation that “toilet paper symbolises control”.

“We use it to ‘tidy up’ and 𠆌lean up’. It deals with a bodily function that is somewhat taboo,” she said.

“When people hear about the coronavirus, they are afraid of losing control. And toilet paper feels like a way to maintain control over hygiene and cleanliness.

“People don’t seem interested in substitutes. Supermarket shelves are still full of other paper towels and tissues.

Scenes from Costco Casula of people panic buying toilet paper due to coronavirus pandemic fears. Source:Facebook

Brian Cook, Community Engagement for Disaster Risk Reduction project, University of Melbourne believes it may be a reaction to stress.

“It’s an interesting question. My suspicion is that it is to do with how people react to stress: they want an element of comfort and security. For many Westerners there is a ‘yuck factor’ associated with non-toilet paper cleaning,” Dr Cook said.

“I expect there is also a pragmatic element. Toilet paper is a product that takes a lot of space, and is therefore not something people have a lot of under normal circumstances.

𠇊 lot of people likely also use toilet paper as a tissue, and therefore imagine themselves needing a lot if they have the flu or a flu-like illness.

“Stocking up on toilet paper is also a relatively cheap action, and people like to think that they are 𠆍oing something’ when they feel at risk.”

Empty shelves in Coles at Westfield's Parramatta. Picture: Rohan Kelly Source:News Corp Australia

David Savage, Newcastle Business School, University of Newcastle said it was the “perfect product”.

“It is completely non-perishable and one of the few products that you can stock up on that you are guaranteed to use eventually,” he said.

“I don’t know for certain but I suspect that most people only buy toilet paper when they just about run out, which could be a problem if you need to stay isolated for two weeks.

“So I think this is just a preparation process, because we have seen that toilet paper has become a shortage item elsewhere.”

Stocks of hand sanitiser are also running low at the Coles store in Belmont Village. Source:News Corp Australia

Alex Russell, School of Health, Medical and Applied Sciences, Central Queensland University believes there are a few factors at play.

“People aren’t only stockpiling toilet paper. All sorts of items are sold out, like face masks and hand sanitiser. Things like canned goods and other non-perishable foods are also selling well.

“People are scared, and they’re bunkering down. They’re buying what they need and one of the items is toilet paper.

“I think we’re noticing the toilet paper more than the other things because toilet paper packs are big items that take up a lot of shelf space. Seeing a small product sold out at the supermarket (such as hand sanitiser) is not that unusual, and it’s only a small hole in the shelf that is often temporarily filled with nearby products.

𠇋ut if the toilet paper is gone, that’s a massive amount of shelf space that can’t readily be replaced with other things nearby.

𠇊 second reason we might be noticing it more is because there aren’t easy substitutions. If the supermarket is out of a particular ingredient for dinner, you can just get something else, or an entirely different dinner.

𠇋ut if there’s not a roll of toilet paper, then that’s pretty frustrating for everyone. Sure, tissues or paper towels, but it’s not quite the same, is it?”


Coronavirus: Why is there still no toilet paper in stores?

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Toilet paper, hand sanitizer and other hygiene essentials began flying off store shelves weeks ago amid mounting worries over the deadly coronavirus pandemic. Not to worry, retailers and suppliers said, we’re churning out product and cranking up inventory to meet demand.

So where is it? A week into an unprecedented statewide stay-home order aimed at keeping hospitals from being overwhelmed with patients, consumers throughout California and beyond are still finding empty store shelves when they look for things such as toilet paper, paper towels, sanitary wipes and hand sanitizer.

“The ultimate question everyone wants to know is when will the store shelves be restocked,” said Eric Abercrombie, a spokesman for Atlanta-based Georgia-Pacific, one of the world’s leading producers of toilet paper and paper towels. “And unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer for you on that.”

In fact, nobody seems to — not the stores, not the suppliers, and certainly not hordes of people sharing their woes on social media #toiletpapercrisis.

“Some people aren’t shaking hands because of Coronavirus,” read one tweet. “I’m not shaking hands because everyone is out of toilet paper.”

Some people aren't shaking hands because of Coronavirus. I'm not shaking hands because everyone is out of toilet paper. #COVID2019 #toiletpapercrisis

&mdash Janis Neufeld (@jsneufeld) March 26, 2020

Georgia-Pacific’s mills and regional distribution centers last week shipped out 120 percent of their normal capacity, Abercrombie said.

“We’re breaking some production records,” he said. “We’re trying to crank it out fast as we can.”

But you wouldn’t know it after visiting local supermarkets and pharmacies, where some aisles look like something you’d imagine in communist Cuba or Venezuela.

In tech-savvy California, where everyone’s accustomed to being able to buy anything with a few taps on their iPhone — online e-tailers are no help. Search Amazon and it shows a 36-roll pack of Angel Soft that when you try to add it to your e-cart, is unavailable. The earliest you can get 10 rolls of Treesolo 3-ply is April 16.

Major grocery chains offered little in the way of encouragement on the outlook for retail supply.

“We ship deliveries to our stores on a regular basis, and many high-demand items are purchased shortly after restocking on shelves,” said Wendy Gutshall, spokeswoman for the Northern California Division of Safeway. “We are working with our supplier partners to refill high-demand products as quickly as possible. We are asking customers to respect quantity limits on select products, like hand sanitizers, household cleaners and other staple items to help ensure more of our neighbors can find the products they need.”

A woman looks at empty shelves in the paper goods section at a Target store Thursday, March 19, 2020, in Overland Park, Kan. Stores continue to struggle to keep shelves stocked with toilet paper, face masks, hand sanitizer, disinfectants and other items as people panic shop in response to the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Gutshall acknowledged that “we don’t have customer limitations in place” on purchases of high-demand items like toilet paper — it’s honor system — but said Safeway has “adjusted store hours to give our teams the time they need to restock shelves and get ready to serve the community.”

Raley’s spokeswoman Chelsea Minor said, “Unfortunately, I do not have an answer” as to when the TP will be plentiful in its stores again.

“We are working with our suppliers to get more product,” Minor said. “Also, we are regional — we don’t have the same buying power as the bigger chains.”

A customer leave Costco with toilet paper in Cypress, CA, on Friday, March 13, 2020. The line extended from the entrance, across the front of the building, up Winner Circle, around the cul-de-sac, back down Winner Circle, then on Katella to the Los Alamitos Race Track driveway. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Procter & Gamble, the Ohio company that also is a major toilet paper producer, said they too are working around the clock to meet the surge in demand.

“Demand continues to outpace supply, but we are working diligently to get product to our retailers as fast as humanly possible so everyone can continue to Enjoy the Go,” said Proctor & Gamble spokesman Loren Fanroy. “We are prioritizing our bestselling sizes to maximize the amount of product we can ship to retailers, and we remain focused on making sure our products are available when and where people shop during this highly dynamic situation. We continue to manufacture and ship Charmin to our retailers.”

Oakland-based Clorox, which makes a number of sanitizing products such as disinfecting wipes that have vanished from stores, along with toilet paper and paper towels, had no immediate response Thursday.

Why toilet paper disappeared from stores is a frustrating mystery for government and health officials trying to manage the pandemic crisis and prevent consumer panic. Unlike disinfecting wipes, or paper towels soaked in bleach, toilet paper doesn’t kill the coronavirus, and the COVID-19 disease is a respiratory infection, not a stomach bug that necessitates frequent trips to the bathroom.


The psychology behind why toilet paper, of all things, is the latest coronavirus panic buy

Masks were the first to go. Then, hand sanitizers.

Now, novel coronavirus panic buyers are snatching up . toilet paper?

Retailers in the U.S. and Canada have started limiting the number of toilet paper packs customers can buy in one trip. Some supermarkets in the UK are sold out. Grocery stores in Australia have hired security guards to patrol customers.

An Australian newspaper went so far as printing eight extra pages in a recent edition -- emergency toilet paper, the newspaper said, should Aussies run out.

Why? Toilet paper does not offer special protection against the virus. It's not considered a staple of impending emergencies, like milk and bread are.

So why are people buying up rolls more quickly than they can be restocked?

REASON 1

People resort to extremes when they hear conflicting messages

Steven Taylor is a clinical psychologist and author of "The Psychology of Pandemics," which takes a historic look at how people behave and respond to pandemics. And compared to past pandemics, the global response to the novel coronavirus has been one of widespread panic.

"On the one hand, [the response is] understandable, but on the other hand it's excessive," Taylor, a professor and clinical psychologist at the University of British Columbia, told CNN. "We can prepare without panicking."

The novel coronavirus scares people because it's new, and there's a lot about it that's still unknown. When people hear conflicting messages about the risk it poses and how seriously they should prepare for it, they tend to resort to the extreme, Taylor said.

"When people are told something dangerous is coming, but all you need to do is wash your hands, the action doesn't seem proportionate to the threat," he said. "Special danger needs special precautions."

REASON 2

Some are reacting to the lack of a clear direction from officials

Several countries have already imposed mass quarantines. People buying up toilet paper and other household supplies may be preparing for the same thing in their city, said Baruch Fischhoff, a psychologist and professor in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy and the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie Mellon University.

"Unless people have seen . official promises that everyone will be taken care of, they are left to guess at the probability of needing the extra toilet paper, sooner rather than later," he told CNN. "The fact that there are no official promises might increase those probabilities."

REASON 3

Panic buying begets panic buying

Images of empty shelves and shopping carts piled high with supplies have inundated news reports and social feeds. People see images of panic buyers, assume there's a reason to panic and buy up supplies, too, Taylor said.

"People, being social creatures, we look to each other for cues for what is safe and what is dangerous," he said. "And when you see someone in the store, panic buying, that can cause a fear contagion effect."

All those photos of empty shelves may lead people to believe that they must rush out and grab toilet paper while they still can. And what started as perceived scarcity becomes actual scarcity, Taylor said.

Social media is a huge player in novel coronavirus fear-mongering, Taylor said. Misinformation spreads with ease, and open platforms amplify voices of panic.

REASON 4

It's natural to want to overprepare

There may be some practicality in stocking up, says Frank Farley, a professor at Temple University and former president of the American Psychological Association.

With the CDC and other international health agencies now advising that certain populations should stay home and avoid contact with other people or crowds, it's natural to want to prepare, he said.

"[The novel coronavirus] is engendering a sort of survivalist psychology, where we must live as much as possible at home and thus must 'stock up' on essentials, and that certainly includes toilet paper," he told CNN. "After all, if we run out of [toilet paper], what do we replace it with?"

You'll be spending money on toilet paper at one point or another -- the only extra costs are the hassle of doing it sooner rather than later, contending with long lines and having difficulty finding it, Fischhoff said.

Since they'll eventually use the toilet paper, the analysis is different than if they'd bought something they likely wouldn't use, like a perishable item, he said.

The US Department of Homeland Security advises Americans to keep at least two weeks' worth of food, toiletries and medical supplies on hand anyway, but Taylor said most people don't. So when health officials publicly advise to stock up, they may take it to the extreme.

REASON 5

It allows some to feel a sense of control

The people who are stocking up on supplies are thinking about themselves and their family and what they need to do to prepare, Taylor said -- not healthcare workers, sick people or even regular folks who might run out of toilet paper sometime soon.

"It's all due to this wave of anticipatory anxiety," Taylor said. "People become anxious ahead of the actual infection. They haven't thought about the bigger picture, like what are the consequences of stockpiling toilet paper."

But people only act that way out of fear. Fischhoff said that preparing, even by purchasing toilet paper, returns a sense of control to what seems like a helpless situation.

"Depending on how people estimate the chances of needing the toilet paper, the hassle might be worth it," he said. "If it gave them the feeling that they had done everything that they could, it might free them to think about other things than coronavirus."

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Supermarkets in Australia are largely selling out of toilet paper due to novel coronavirus fears. An Australian newspaper even printed out eight extra pages in a recent edition to serve as emergency toilet paper. (WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)


The psychology behind the panic buying of toilet paper during the Covid 19 outbreak

One theory from consumer expert Dr Rohan Miller from the University of Sydney is that "We're not used to shortages and scarcity, we're used to being able to pick and choose what we want, when we want. So the rush to get toilet paper is just this sheep mentality to maintain that status

As the novel coronavirus outbreak has swept all over the world, it has been accompanied by frenzied panic buying of household essentials such as food and water, and, of all things, rolls of toilet paper.

Several countries have reported cases of people stockpiling goods. In Asia, noodles and rice have been the items of choice. In Western countries, pasta and canned goods have been flying off the shelves.

But everywhere, it seems, people have whipped themselves into a frenzy buying toilet paper—as apparently they are now part of living essentials people cannot do without should they be forced to quarantine themselves in their homes because of Covid-19.

Consider the following news items:

— In Hong Kong , three men wielding knives broke into a supermarket in Hong Kong and stole 600 rolls of toilet paper last month

—In Japan, people have been stealing toilet paper from public restrooms , despite the fact that the country has actually overstocked the item

—In Australia, Woolworths, the county’s biggest supermarket chain , announced it would be limiting the number of toilet paper rolls to four packs per person.

—And in Australia (again), one woman at a Woolworth’s store pulled a knife on another shopper over an argument over toilet rolls, to the point that six police rushed to the scene. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

What’s behind the rush for loo rolls?

Well, governments have been advising people to stock up on necessities since the Covid-19 outbreak began to spread more widely. But why has toilet paper in particular been the item of choice? It’s not as though running out of the item is a matter of life and death, and surely there are substitutes for toilet paper if one runs out.

And unlike masks, which have also run out of stock due to panic buying (and panic-using), toilet paper does nothing to either protect someone from getting infected with the coronavirus (which masks may not do, either), nor does it prevent its spread.

So why are people going out and buying all the toilet paper they see?

Well, for one thing, perhaps the first nation that started the trend is responsible for spreading it to other countries. Associate Professor Nitika Garg from the University of New South Wales told the BBC, “They think if this person is buying it, if my neighbour is buying there’s got to be a reason and I need to get in too.”

Therefore, on a grander scale, we may just be copying our neighbors. “If Hong Kong had a toilet paper shortage, then it may happen in Singapore (or Australia, or Germany, or Japan) too, and by god! I must be prepared,”may be replicated on a country-wide level.

An associate professor of marketing at Macquarie University, Jana Bowden said, “It’s been a topic of media conversation, and consumers are watching what is happening around the world with the coronavirus, and we are taking psychological cues and signals from these other international markets.”

Professor Garg also says that the panic buying of toilet paper may be all about control. Two months into the outbreak and there are many unknowns about the virus, which means that some of the questions burning in people’s minds—(How long will it last? Is it safe to travel? What happens when my supplies run out?)—simply have no answers, leading to helplessness.

A simple thing such as making sure that we have enough toilet paper can address that feeling of helplessness.

Professor Garg said, “They want to be prepared because it’s the one thing they can do to get some sense of control.”

Perhaps toilet paper is also a symbol of the convenience of modern living we have gotten used to, and are unprepared to give up.

According to Dr Rohan Miller from the University of Sydney, a consumer expert, “We’re not used to shortages and scarcity, we’re used to being able to pick and choose what we want, when we want. So 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. 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.” —/TISG


Coronavirus: 11 psychological reasons why we hoard toilet paper in a crisis

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages, frantic shoppers everywhere are stocking up for the long road ahead. Canned goods, hand sanitizer, cleaning products, bottled water are all hot-ticket items.

But there is perhaps nothing in so high demand as toilet paper.

Turns out the sudden, desperate need to have ALL THE TOILET PAPER regardless of actual need is one of the unlikely consequences of the very things that make humans human.

To discover why we tend to hoard a product we don't actually need to survive in tough times, Inverse spoke to seven experts from across the fields of marketing and business, psychology and sociology, and consumer behavior.

Here are the 11 reasons why humans the world over panic-buy toilet roll in a crisis.

11. It’s perceived as a basic necessity

Turns out toilet paper tends to be among the first things people feel they need in case of danger, or confinement.

“Toilet paper is strongly associated with “basic necessities,” more so than tissue paper or shampoo, for example," Ayelet Fishbach, professor of behavioral science and marketing at Chicago Booth University, tells Inverse.

"When people get the memo that they should stock up on necessities, toilet paper is going to be one of the first things that comes to their mind."

That ranks it up there with food and water, Fishbach explains.

10. Humans fear the unknown

Fear of the unknown is one of the greatest drivers for panic.

As Gerald Keush, professor of medicine and international health at Boston University, tells Inverse, part of the reason why we get ourselves worked up in these situations is our fault. The narratives we have around pandemics — whether from Hollywood films or popular literature — tend to depict disaster, death, and devastation.

These are “unrealistic, full of errors and disinformation, designed for the box office, and not to convey information," Keush says. But as inaccurate as they may be, these stories have a pernicious effect on our ability to cope with unknowns.

“There is always fear including fear of the unknown when something like this outbreak happens,” Keush says. Part of the problem, at least in the United States, also stems from the lack of a solid, factual narrative alternative, he says.

“It is also happening because leadership at the very top of the US government has been so incredibly bad, biased, and empty of believable messages.”

9. We need a sense of control

Hoarding can be a means of exerting control.

“Even though digestive issues do not seem to be linked to COVID-19, remember that people are not always rational,” Patricia Huddleston, professor of retailing at Michigan University, tells Inverse.

“People are scared, and when there is fear, we try to exert some control over our environment. Making sure that we have enough of a basic necessity is one way to calm fear and exert control," she says.

8. Toilet paper is symbolic

“In North America, there wasn’t much concern about the virus. People didn’t see much chance of it happening to them nor did they see the consequences as troublesome,” Ronald Mackerville, professor of recreation and leisure studies at University of Waterloo, says.

“Then people started posting images of shoppers at Costco, etc, stocking up on toilet paper. It became the symbol of what was to come.”

In combination with images of people in China being isolated in their homes on short notice, these messages hit home, he explains.

“If social media had focused instead on images of lines at gas stations, or empty shelves of canned goods, or coolers emptied of dairy products, we might have seen very different behavior," he says.

7. It provides a sense of hygiene

According to medicine professor Keush, it’s because the message of how to actually get rid of the virus is mangled, therefore people just resort to hygiene overall.

“What is important is hand hygiene, and maybe that message is being confused with the fear that there won’t be any toilet paper. The thinking might be how can I maintain hand hygiene if I run out of toilet paper,” Keush tells Inverse.

6. We anticipate others' behavior

“People hoard because they anticipate that others will anticipate a shortage and therefore will hoard,” Fishbach explains.

“And so, even if I don’t anticipate a shortage, if I anticipate that you anticipate a shortage, I should buy some extra rolls. I can even anticipate that you anticipate that someone anticipates there will be a shortage, and I would still buy some extra rolls.”

“It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Fishbach says.

5. FOMO

Basically, there is "a fear of missing out,” Sylvain Senecal, professor of marketing at HEC Montreal University, tells Inverse.

“If media reports that people are stocking up on toilet paper, [others] will be motivated to do the same even if they cannot objectively explain why they do so.”

Although this behavior isn’t rational, once it starts, people buy more than they need because they fear a shortage later. As a result, shortages occur because people buy more than they need, Huddleston explains. It is yet another self-fulfilling prophecy, known as the "scarcity effect."

The current rush on toilet roll is a prime example of the scarcity effect in action, according to Manoj Thomas, professor of marketing at Cornell University, tells Inverse.

“The scarcity effect is a well-established phenomenon in consumer behavior, which states that perceived scarcity will increase the value of an item,” Thomas says.

4. We're suckers for potent packaging

Turns out the packaging has to do with our panic, too.

“The tendency to hoard toilet paper during this pandemic is completely irrational, triggered solely by the bulky packaging size of toilet papers,” Thomas says. “Toilet paper packs are one of the bulkiest items in a grocery store.”

The packs' bulky size have two important implications, Thomas explains.

Retailers typically have less stock of toilet paper relative to other, smaller household products, such as soaps and detergents. When 20 or 30 customers buy toilet paper, the retail shelves start looking empty, creating a visual cue of scarcity, he says.

“This observation then creates panic buying.”

3. We’re worried there is no other option

“While the US supply chains are secure and have been working, I think that there is a lack of trust in both government and business in the way that the coronavirus crisis is unfolding,” Huddleston says.

Just look at other essential hygiene items, Huddleston says.

“You asked why people are not stockpiling body wash — one reason is that there are alternatives to body wash. Bar soap for example.”

2. We look out for Number One

For a small segment of consumers, there may be a way to profit off buying up toilet roll now, Huddleston says. Although it isn't entirely ethical.

“We have seen price gouging on Amazon for things like hand sanitizer, up to $350 for a two pack, so some people may hope for a shortage and then make some sort of profit.”

1. It's cultural

Although toilet paper is in high demand in the US, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and some Asian countries, the perception of what a basic necessity is likely varies between cultures.

For example, in Italy, people have been hoarding pasta, not toilet paper.

“In Israel (where I come from) shelf-stable milk is considered a necessity,” Fishbach says. Fishbach doesn't live in Israel, however — he lives in Chicago, where the cultural norms are a little different.

“My first intuition was to buy a few cartons in case there will be a shortage. But then I remembered it’s not even a product that sells very much in Chicago, and clearly Americans aren’t going to hoard it.”

Should you buy toilet paper?

It may be irrational, but many of the experts we spoke to didn't find the drive to panic-buy toilet paper in a crisis overly strange or unusual.

"You're overthinking this,” Lee Clarke, professor of sociology at Rutgers University, tells Inverse.

“You call it hoarding, as do others, but it's just buying enough to last… who knows how long the paper is supposed to last?”

Ultimately, the empty shelves may not show the effects of hoarding — instead they show inadequate supplies, he says.

When Inverse asked about alternatives to toilet paper, like showering or using a bidet, Clarke explains why these options don't make the cut for the majority of people used to wiping.

“One could shower every time, but people are trying to maintain some sense of normalcy and women don't normally shower after every urination," Clarke says.

"One might shower after every defecation, but I doubt most people do that, though it's true I don't have data on shitting after showering, and it can't be good for the plumbing.”

“They never show this problem in, say, The Walking Dead, but those people would stink to high heaven if they were real.”


Coronavirus: Why is there still no toilet paper in stores?

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Toilet paper, hand sanitizer and other hygiene essentials began flying off store shelves weeks ago amid mounting worries over the deadly coronavirus pandemic. Not to worry, retailers and suppliers said, we’re churning out product and cranking up inventory to meet demand.

So where is it? A week into an unprecedented statewide stay-home order aimed at keeping hospitals from being overwhelmed with patients, consumers throughout California and beyond are still finding empty store shelves when they look for things such as toilet paper, paper towels, sanitary wipes and hand sanitizer.

“The ultimate question everyone wants to know is when will the store shelves be restocked,” said Eric Abercrombie, a spokesman for Atlanta-based Georgia-Pacific, one of the world’s leading producers of toilet paper and paper towels. “And unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer for you on that.”

In fact, nobody seems to — not the stores, not the suppliers, and certainly not hordes of people sharing their woes on social media #toiletpapercrisis.

“Some people aren’t shaking hands because of Coronavirus,” read one tweet. “I’m not shaking hands because everyone is out of toilet paper.”

Some people aren't shaking hands because of Coronavirus. I'm not shaking hands because everyone is out of toilet paper. #COVID2019 #toiletpapercrisis

&mdash Janis Neufeld (@jsneufeld) March 26, 2020

Georgia-Pacific’s mills and regional distribution centers last week shipped out 120 percent of their normal capacity, Abercrombie said.

“We’re breaking some production records,” he said. “We’re trying to crank it out fast as we can.”

But you wouldn’t know it after visiting local supermarkets and pharmacies, where some aisles look like something you’d imagine in communist Cuba or Venezuela.

In tech-savvy California, where everyone’s accustomed to being able to buy anything with a few taps on their iPhone — online e-tailers are no help. Search Amazon and it shows a 36-roll pack of Angel Soft that when you try to add it to your e-cart, is unavailable. The earliest you can get 10 rolls of Treesolo 3-ply is April 16.

Major grocery chains offered little in the way of encouragement on the outlook for retail supply.

“We ship deliveries to our stores on a regular basis, and many high-demand items are purchased shortly after restocking on shelves,” said Wendy Gutshall, spokeswoman for the Northern California Division of Safeway. “We are working with our supplier partners to refill high-demand products as quickly as possible. We are asking customers to respect quantity limits on select products, like hand sanitizers, household cleaners and other staple items to help ensure more of our neighbors can find the products they need.”

A woman looks at empty shelves in the paper goods section at a Target store Thursday, March 19, 2020, in Overland Park, Kan. Stores continue to struggle to keep shelves stocked with toilet paper, face masks, hand sanitizer, disinfectants and other items as people panic shop in response to the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Gutshall acknowledged that “we don’t have customer limitations in place” on purchases of high-demand items like toilet paper — it’s honor system — but said Safeway has “adjusted store hours to give our teams the time they need to restock shelves and get ready to serve the community.”

Raley’s spokeswoman Chelsea Minor said, “Unfortunately, I do not have an answer” as to when the TP will be plentiful in its stores again.

“We are working with our suppliers to get more product,” Minor said. “Also, we are regional — we don’t have the same buying power as the bigger chains.”

A customer leave Costco with toilet paper in Cypress, CA, on Friday, March 13, 2020. The line extended from the entrance, across the front of the building, up Winner Circle, around the cul-de-sac, back down Winner Circle, then on Katella to the Los Alamitos Race Track driveway. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Procter & Gamble, the Ohio company that also is a major toilet paper producer, said they too are working around the clock to meet the surge in demand.

“Demand continues to outpace supply, but we are working diligently to get product to our retailers as fast as humanly possible so everyone can continue to Enjoy the Go,” said Proctor & Gamble spokesman Loren Fanroy. “We are prioritizing our bestselling sizes to maximize the amount of product we can ship to retailers, and we remain focused on making sure our products are available when and where people shop during this highly dynamic situation. We continue to manufacture and ship Charmin to our retailers.”

Oakland-based Clorox, which makes a number of sanitizing products such as disinfecting wipes that have vanished from stores, along with toilet paper and paper towels, had no immediate response Thursday.

Why toilet paper disappeared from stores is a frustrating mystery for government and health officials trying to manage the pandemic crisis and prevent consumer panic. Unlike disinfecting wipes, or paper towels soaked in bleach, toilet paper doesn’t kill the coronavirus, and the COVID-19 disease is a respiratory infection, not a stomach bug that necessitates frequent trips to the bathroom.


𧿪r contagion'

Meanwhile, Sander van der Linden, an assistant professor of social psychology at Cambridge University, said there were both generalized and coronavirus-specific factors at play.

"In the U.S., people are receiving conflicting messages from the CDC and the Trump administration," he said. "When one organization is saying it's urgent and another says it's under control, it makes people worry."

President Donald Trump downplayed the impact of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak on Twitter this week, with a disconnect reportedly widening between the administration and U.S. health authorities. The virus is now present in at least 35 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

More generally, a "fear contagion" phenomenon was taking hold, van der Linden added.

"When people are stressed their reason is hampered, so they look at what other people are doing. If others are stockpiling it leads you to engage in the same behavior," he said. "People see photos of empty shelves and regardless of whether it's rational it sends a signal to them that it's the thing to do."

"Sometimes there can be a lot of value in social knowledge — from an evolutionary perspective when we don't know how to react to something, we look to others for guidance," he added. "If you're in the jungle and someone jumps away from a snake you automatically do the same thing. But sometimes that gets highjacked and you're told to do something that's not the right thing to do."

While sales of hand soaps and sanitizers have soared in markets around the world since the outbreak began, consumers have also been stocking up on a somewhat surprising item – toilet paper. According to Dimitrios Tsivrikos, lecturer in consumer and business psychology at University College London, toilet paper has become an "icon" of mass panic.

"In times of uncertainty, people enter a panic zone that makes them irrational and completely neurotic," he said in a phone call. "In other disaster conditions like a flood, we can prepare because we know how many supplies we need, but we have a virus now we know nothing about."

"When you enter a supermarket, you're looking for value and high volumes," he added, noting that people are drawn to the large packaging that toilet paper comes in when they are looking to regain a sense of control.

Tsivrikos, like van der Linden, told CNBC the lack of a clear voice from authority figures was fueling the panic.

"The public is getting conflicting advice from the government and retailers," he said. "So people mass buy. I blame the system for not having a unanimous voice on what we should be doing."

However, Peter Noel Murray, a New York-based member of the American Psychological Association and the Society for Consumer Psychology, disagreed that authority figures had the power to calm the panic-buying trend.

"If authorities were to consistently say that this virus is not a problem it wouldn't change anything," he told CNBC via telephone. "Campaigns that are authoritative are not successful if they don't tap into people's behavior."

According to Murray, cognitive and emotional responses were the two key factors involved in influencing our decisions during situations like the coronavirus outbreak.

"In this case the cognitive factor is cognitive bias, (which means) we tend to overemphasize things that are recent and very vivid," he explained. "When there's a plane crash people don't fly, when there's a shark attack people think all sharks are killers. That process makes us think that whatever the current thing is, it's similar to some terrible thing — it catastrophizes our view of whatever this thing is."

In this case, Murray said, people might be associating the coronavirus with a past deadly outbreak, like the 1918 Spanish flu that killed around 50 million people worldwide.

"On the emotional side, the answer is self-affirmation. In our minds we know one day we are going to be dead, and the mind deals with it through (seeking) control," Murray said.

"There's an over-representation of fear and people's minds need to respond to those kinds of feelings," he added. "The need for self-affirmation is triggered, and that drives us to do unreasonable things like buying a year's worth of toilet paper. It overwhelms the knowledge that we don't need to be doing that."


Latest Updates

But it’s clear that the retailers, even those with experience in dealing with crisis-related demand before a hurricane or a blizzard, are being tested as demand surges across the country all at once.

Walmart said it was adjusting its supply routes to keep up. The company is picking up many high-demand products at factories and shipping them in trucks directly to stores, bypassing regional distribution centers.

The frenzied buying was even acknowledged Friday in the Rose Garden, where President Trump stood next to the executives of major retailers including Walmart.

“Toilet paper is not an effective way to prevent getting the coronavirus, but they’re selling out,” the health secretary, Alex M. Azar II, said.

People have been sharing images of toilet paper shortages and other empty shelves at Giant Eagle, a private grocery chain that has more than 400 locations and is based in Pittsburgh.

The chain said it had been working to increase the frequency of deliveries of “essential items” to stores and asked corporate employees to assist in stores, where other employees are stocking shelves and fulfilling curbside pickup and delivery orders.

All Giant Eagles have begun to temporarily limit toilet paper purchases to three packages per customer, Dick Roberts, a company spokesman, said in an email.

The vast majority of toilet paper consumed by Americans is made in North America. But about 10 percent of the giant rolls of paper that are used to make the rolls that end up in American bathrooms come from China and India. Those imports have been delayed because of the broader bottleneck of shipments from Asia, as the region begins to recover from the virus outbreak and factories come back online.

Joe Raccuia, chief executive of Morcon Tissue, which makes toilet paper in plants across the United States, said his supplier in Mexico had warned him about delays.

“It’s a matter of weeks, not months,” said Mr. Raccuia, who sells his toilet paper mostly to hotels and restaurants.

It’s not just toilet paper that people are stockpiling, of course. Weeks ago, there were shortages of hand sanitizer. By Friday, the panic buying had extended to bottled water and thermometers.

Popular thermometers, like those sold under the Vicks brand, were listed as out of stock on the websites of retailers like Target, Walmart, CVS, Walgreens and Staples.

Even on Amazon, the options were grim. For example, a Vicks ComfortFlex thermometer that was listed for about $10 on Walmart’s website was being sold by two sellers on Amazon for at least $40, and could not be delivered for at least a week — a far cry from Amazon’s usual advantages on price and speed.


The psychology behind why toilet paper, of all things, is the latest coronavirus panic buy

Masks were the first to go. Then, hand sanitizers.

Now, novel coronavirus panic buyers are snatching up . toilet paper?

Retailers in the U.S. and Canada have started limiting the number of toilet paper packs customers can buy in one trip. Some supermarkets in the UK are sold out. Grocery stores in Australia have hired security guards to patrol customers.

An Australian newspaper went so far as printing eight extra pages in a recent edition -- emergency toilet paper, the newspaper said, should Aussies run out.

Why? Toilet paper does not offer special protection against the virus. It's not considered a staple of impending emergencies, like milk and bread are.

So why are people buying up rolls more quickly than they can be restocked?

REASON 1

People resort to extremes when they hear conflicting messages

Steven Taylor is a clinical psychologist and author of "The Psychology of Pandemics," which takes a historic look at how people behave and respond to pandemics. And compared to past pandemics, the global response to the novel coronavirus has been one of widespread panic.

"On the one hand, [the response is] understandable, but on the other hand it's excessive," Taylor, a professor and clinical psychologist at the University of British Columbia, told CNN. "We can prepare without panicking."

The novel coronavirus scares people because it's new, and there's a lot about it that's still unknown. When people hear conflicting messages about the risk it poses and how seriously they should prepare for it, they tend to resort to the extreme, Taylor said.

"When people are told something dangerous is coming, but all you need to do is wash your hands, the action doesn't seem proportionate to the threat," he said. "Special danger needs special precautions."

REASON 2

Some are reacting to the lack of a clear direction from officials

Several countries have already imposed mass quarantines. People buying up toilet paper and other household supplies may be preparing for the same thing in their city, said Baruch Fischhoff, a psychologist and professor in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy and the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie Mellon University.

"Unless people have seen . official promises that everyone will be taken care of, they are left to guess at the probability of needing the extra toilet paper, sooner rather than later," he told CNN. "The fact that there are no official promises might increase those probabilities."

REASON 3

Panic buying begets panic buying

Images of empty shelves and shopping carts piled high with supplies have inundated news reports and social feeds. People see images of panic buyers, assume there's a reason to panic and buy up supplies, too, Taylor said.

"People, being social creatures, we look to each other for cues for what is safe and what is dangerous," he said. "And when you see someone in the store, panic buying, that can cause a fear contagion effect."

All those photos of empty shelves may lead people to believe that they must rush out and grab toilet paper while they still can. And what started as perceived scarcity becomes actual scarcity, Taylor said.

Social media is a huge player in novel coronavirus fear-mongering, Taylor said. Misinformation spreads with ease, and open platforms amplify voices of panic.

REASON 4

It's natural to want to overprepare

There may be some practicality in stocking up, says Frank Farley, a professor at Temple University and former president of the American Psychological Association.

With the CDC and other international health agencies now advising that certain populations should stay home and avoid contact with other people or crowds, it's natural to want to prepare, he said.

"[The novel coronavirus] is engendering a sort of survivalist psychology, where we must live as much as possible at home and thus must 'stock up' on essentials, and that certainly includes toilet paper," he told CNN. "After all, if we run out of [toilet paper], what do we replace it with?"

You'll be spending money on toilet paper at one point or another -- the only extra costs are the hassle of doing it sooner rather than later, contending with long lines and having difficulty finding it, Fischhoff said.

Since they'll eventually use the toilet paper, the analysis is different than if they'd bought something they likely wouldn't use, like a perishable item, he said.

The US Department of Homeland Security advises Americans to keep at least two weeks' worth of food, toiletries and medical supplies on hand anyway, but Taylor said most people don't. So when health officials publicly advise to stock up, they may take it to the extreme.

REASON 5

It allows some to feel a sense of control

The people who are stocking up on supplies are thinking about themselves and their family and what they need to do to prepare, Taylor said -- not healthcare workers, sick people or even regular folks who might run out of toilet paper sometime soon.

"It's all due to this wave of anticipatory anxiety," Taylor said. "People become anxious ahead of the actual infection. They haven't thought about the bigger picture, like what are the consequences of stockpiling toilet paper."

But people only act that way out of fear. Fischhoff said that preparing, even by purchasing toilet paper, returns a sense of control to what seems like a helpless situation.

"Depending on how people estimate the chances of needing the toilet paper, the hassle might be worth it," he said. "If it gave them the feeling that they had done everything that they could, it might free them to think about other things than coronavirus."

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Supermarkets in Australia are largely selling out of toilet paper due to novel coronavirus fears. An Australian newspaper even printed out eight extra pages in a recent edition to serve as emergency toilet paper. (WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)


The hidden motive behind people’s urge to buy toilet paper amid coronavirus crisis

Australians have gone crazy buying toilet paper amid fears over coronavirus. Experts explain why this is the one item we stocked up on.

The coronavirus outbreak has left Aussies fighting for a number of everyday household foods and items.

The coronavirus outbreak has left Aussies fighting for a number of everyday household foods and items.

One man loads up on toilet paper at the Coles Express petrol station in Five Dock, saying he’s stocking up ’just in case they run out, I haven't been able to buy any, everyone else is buying it’. Picture: Bill Hearne Source:News Corp Australia

As coronavirus continues to spread around the world, anxiety is rising in Australia.

Shoppers fearful of quarantine measures have been stocking up on supplies to last out a week or two of isolation.

Recent days have seen reports of shortages of hand sanitiser and warnings that batteries and other electronic items could be next. However, the surge in demand for one particular commodity has seen supermarket shelves stripped bare: toilet paper.

It’s not just Australians. Shops in Japan, the US and New Zealand have also run low on the precious sanitary rolls. In Hong Kong, ambitious thieves held up a supermarket to steal a delivery.

But why toilet paper? The question has been in the air for at least the past month, but it’s now become hard to avoid. We asked four experts for their thoughts.

Why toilet paper. Same happened in QLD floods (2010), first thing to go was toilet paper. Some sort of instinctive reaction to supply disruption? Come next catastrophe (whatever it may be) I'm investing in toilet paper manufacturershttps://t.co/wmNzmzP5bY

— Rabee Tourky (@RabeeTourky) February 8, 2020

Dr Niki Edwards, School of Public Health and Social Work, Queensland University of Technology told The Conversation that “toilet paper symbolises control”.

“We use it to ‘tidy up’ and 𠆌lean up’. It deals with a bodily function that is somewhat taboo,” she said.

“When people hear about the coronavirus, they are afraid of losing control. And toilet paper feels like a way to maintain control over hygiene and cleanliness.

“People don’t seem interested in substitutes. Supermarket shelves are still full of other paper towels and tissues.

Scenes from Costco Casula of people panic buying toilet paper due to coronavirus pandemic fears. Source:Facebook

Brian Cook, Community Engagement for Disaster Risk Reduction project, University of Melbourne believes it may be a reaction to stress.

“It’s an interesting question. My suspicion is that it is to do with how people react to stress: they want an element of comfort and security. For many Westerners there is a ‘yuck factor’ associated with non-toilet paper cleaning,” Dr Cook said.

“I expect there is also a pragmatic element. Toilet paper is a product that takes a lot of space, and is therefore not something people have a lot of under normal circumstances.

𠇊 lot of people likely also use toilet paper as a tissue, and therefore imagine themselves needing a lot if they have the flu or a flu-like illness.

“Stocking up on toilet paper is also a relatively cheap action, and people like to think that they are 𠆍oing something’ when they feel at risk.”

Empty shelves in Coles at Westfield's Parramatta. Picture: Rohan Kelly Source:News Corp Australia

David Savage, Newcastle Business School, University of Newcastle said it was the “perfect product”.

“It is completely non-perishable and one of the few products that you can stock up on that you are guaranteed to use eventually,” he said.

“I don’t know for certain but I suspect that most people only buy toilet paper when they just about run out, which could be a problem if you need to stay isolated for two weeks.

“So I think this is just a preparation process, because we have seen that toilet paper has become a shortage item elsewhere.”

Stocks of hand sanitiser are also running low at the Coles store in Belmont Village. Source:News Corp Australia

Alex Russell, School of Health, Medical and Applied Sciences, Central Queensland University believes there are a few factors at play.

“People aren’t only stockpiling toilet paper. All sorts of items are sold out, like face masks and hand sanitiser. Things like canned goods and other non-perishable foods are also selling well.

“People are scared, and they’re bunkering down. They’re buying what they need and one of the items is toilet paper.

“I think we’re noticing the toilet paper more than the other things because toilet paper packs are big items that take up a lot of shelf space. Seeing a small product sold out at the supermarket (such as hand sanitiser) is not that unusual, and it’s only a small hole in the shelf that is often temporarily filled with nearby products.

𠇋ut if the toilet paper is gone, that’s a massive amount of shelf space that can’t readily be replaced with other things nearby.

𠇊 second reason we might be noticing it more is because there aren’t easy substitutions. If the supermarket is out of a particular ingredient for dinner, you can just get something else, or an entirely different dinner.

𠇋ut if there’s not a roll of toilet paper, then that’s pretty frustrating for everyone. Sure, tissues or paper towels, but it’s not quite the same, is it?”


The psychology behind the panic buying of toilet paper during the Covid 19 outbreak

One theory from consumer expert Dr Rohan Miller from the University of Sydney is that "We're not used to shortages and scarcity, we're used to being able to pick and choose what we want, when we want. So the rush to get toilet paper is just this sheep mentality to maintain that status

As the novel coronavirus outbreak has swept all over the world, it has been accompanied by frenzied panic buying of household essentials such as food and water, and, of all things, rolls of toilet paper.

Several countries have reported cases of people stockpiling goods. In Asia, noodles and rice have been the items of choice. In Western countries, pasta and canned goods have been flying off the shelves.

But everywhere, it seems, people have whipped themselves into a frenzy buying toilet paper—as apparently they are now part of living essentials people cannot do without should they be forced to quarantine themselves in their homes because of Covid-19.

Consider the following news items:

— In Hong Kong , three men wielding knives broke into a supermarket in Hong Kong and stole 600 rolls of toilet paper last month

—In Japan, people have been stealing toilet paper from public restrooms , despite the fact that the country has actually overstocked the item

—In Australia, Woolworths, the county’s biggest supermarket chain , announced it would be limiting the number of toilet paper rolls to four packs per person.

—And in Australia (again), one woman at a Woolworth’s store pulled a knife on another shopper over an argument over toilet rolls, to the point that six police rushed to the scene. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

What’s behind the rush for loo rolls?

Well, governments have been advising people to stock up on necessities since the Covid-19 outbreak began to spread more widely. But why has toilet paper in particular been the item of choice? It’s not as though running out of the item is a matter of life and death, and surely there are substitutes for toilet paper if one runs out.

And unlike masks, which have also run out of stock due to panic buying (and panic-using), toilet paper does nothing to either protect someone from getting infected with the coronavirus (which masks may not do, either), nor does it prevent its spread.

So why are people going out and buying all the toilet paper they see?

Well, for one thing, perhaps the first nation that started the trend is responsible for spreading it to other countries. Associate Professor Nitika Garg from the University of New South Wales told the BBC, “They think if this person is buying it, if my neighbour is buying there’s got to be a reason and I need to get in too.”

Therefore, on a grander scale, we may just be copying our neighbors. “If Hong Kong had a toilet paper shortage, then it may happen in Singapore (or Australia, or Germany, or Japan) too, and by god! I must be prepared,”may be replicated on a country-wide level.

An associate professor of marketing at Macquarie University, Jana Bowden said, “It’s been a topic of media conversation, and consumers are watching what is happening around the world with the coronavirus, and we are taking psychological cues and signals from these other international markets.”

Professor Garg also says that the panic buying of toilet paper may be all about control. Two months into the outbreak and there are many unknowns about the virus, which means that some of the questions burning in people’s minds—(How long will it last? Is it safe to travel? What happens when my supplies run out?)—simply have no answers, leading to helplessness.

A simple thing such as making sure that we have enough toilet paper can address that feeling of helplessness.

Professor Garg said, “They want to be prepared because it’s the one thing they can do to get some sense of control.”

Perhaps toilet paper is also a symbol of the convenience of modern living we have gotten used to, and are unprepared to give up.

According to Dr Rohan Miller from the University of Sydney, a consumer expert, “We’re not used to shortages and scarcity, we’re used to being able to pick and choose what we want, when we want. So 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. 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.” —/TISG


What's the difference between toilet paper at home and at work?

One kind of bath tissue – for the commercial market – often is made of one ply of recycled fiber and generally is found on rollers at businesses and public places. The other kind – retail toilet paper – is often made of two-ply virgin fiber and is generally much softer for use at home.

This location shift prompted by shelter-at-home rules would lead to an estimated 40% increase over the average daily home usage, according to Georgia-Pacific, which makes Quilted Northern toilet paper and other paper products.

The demand has “increased on retail, and it’s staying steady or surged in the commercial market” because of use at busy health care facilities and other essential businesses, said Eric Abercrombie, spokesman for Georgia-Pacific, based in Atlanta. Abercrombie said the company still expects commercial-market toilet paper demand to decline as “business and vacation plans change.”

Meanwhile, retail toilet paper demand swelled to unforeseen heights in March, with $1.45 billion in toilet paper sales in the four-week period ending March 29, up 112% from a year earlier, according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm. Retail stores couldn’t keep enough supply on the shelves, and the supply chain became strained by the demand.

Shoppers worried about coronavirus are stocking up on toilet paper, hand sanitizer and other supplies even though supply chain experts say there's no need. (Photo: Ryan Ozawa via Storyful)

The supply chain for toilet paper “is not built for dramatic shifts and seasonal demand changes,” said Scott Luton, the CEO and founder of Supply Chain Now, a digital media company. “It’s not like pumpkins during the fall and chicken wings during the Super Bowl.”

Luton also notes that repurposing commercial-market toilet paper to retail shelves “is not simple to do,” even with stocks of it sitting untouched in storage rooms of closed businesses.


Coronavirus: Why is there still no toilet paper in stores?

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Toilet paper, hand sanitizer and other hygiene essentials began flying off store shelves weeks ago amid mounting worries over the deadly coronavirus pandemic. Not to worry, retailers and suppliers said, we’re churning out product and cranking up inventory to meet demand.

So where is it? A week into an unprecedented statewide stay-home order aimed at keeping hospitals from being overwhelmed with patients, consumers throughout the Bay Area and beyond are still finding empty store shelves when they look for things such as toilet paper, paper towels, sanitary wipes and hand sanitizer.

“The ultimate question everyone wants to know is when will the store shelves be restocked,” said Eric Abercrombie, a spokesman for Atlanta-based Georgia-Pacific, one of the world’s leading producers of toilet paper and paper towels. “And unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer for you on that.”

In fact, nobody seems to — not the stores, not the suppliers, and certainly not hordes of people sharing their woes on social media #toiletpapercrisis.

“Some people aren’t shaking hands because of Coronavirus,” read one tweet. “I’m not shaking hands because everyone is out of toilet paper.”

Some people aren't shaking hands because of Coronavirus. I'm not shaking hands because everyone is out of toilet paper. #COVID2019 #toiletpapercrisis

&mdash Janis Neufeld (@jsneufeld) March 26, 2020

Georgia-Pacific’s mills and regional distribution centers last week shipped out 120 percent of their normal capacity, Abercrombie said.

“We’re breaking some production records,” he said. “We’re trying to crank it out fast as we can.”

But you wouldn’t know it after visiting local supermarkets and pharmacies, where some aisles look like something you’d imagine in communist Cuba or Venezuela.

In the Bay Area — center of the Silicon Valley technology universe, where everyone’s accustomed to being able to buy anything with a few taps on their iPhone — online e-tailers are no help. Search Amazon and it shows a 36-roll pack of Angel Soft that when you try to add it to your e-cart, is unavailable. The earliest you can get 10 rolls of Treesolo 3-ply is April 16.

Major grocery chains offered little in the way of encouragement on the outlook for retail supply.

“We ship deliveries to our stores on a regular basis, and many high-demand items are purchased shortly after restocking on shelves,” said Wendy Gutshall, spokeswoman for the Northern California Division of Safeway. “We are working with our supplier partners to refill high-demand products as quickly as possible. We are asking customers to respect quantity limits on select products, like hand sanitizers, household cleaners and other staple items to help ensure more of our neighbors can find the products they need.”

A woman looks at empty shelves in the paper goods section at a Target store Thursday, March 19, 2020, in Overland Park, Kan. Stores continue to struggle to keep shelves stocked with toilet paper, face masks, hand sanitizer, disinfectants and other items as people panic shop in response to the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Gutshall acknowledged that “we don’t have customer limitations in place” on purchases of high-demand items like toilet paper — it’s honor system — but said Safeway has “adjusted store hours to give our teams the time they need to restock shelves and get ready to serve the community.”

Raley’s spokeswoman Chelsea Minor said, “Unfortunately, I do not have an answer” as to when the TP will be plentiful in its stores again.

“We are working with our suppliers to get more product,” Minor said. “Also, we are regional — we don’t have the same buying power as the bigger chains.”

A customer leave Costco with toilet paper in Cypress, CA, on Friday, March 13, 2020. The line extended from the entrance, across the front of the building, up Winner Circle, around the cul-de-sac, back down Winner Circle, then on Katella to the Los Alamitos Race Track driveway. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Procter & Gamble, the Ohio company that also is a major toilet paper producer, said they too are working around the clock to meet the surge in demand.

“Demand continues to outpace supply, but we are working diligently to get product to our retailers as fast as humanly possible so everyone can continue to Enjoy the Go,” said Proctor & Gamble spokesman Loren Fanroy. “We are prioritizing our bestselling sizes to maximize the amount of product we can ship to retailers, and we remain focused on making sure our products are available when and where people shop during this highly dynamic situation. We continue to manufacture and ship Charmin to our retailers.”

Oakland-based Clorox, which makes a number of sanitizing products such as disinfecting wipes that have vanished from stores, along with toilet paper and paper towels, had no immediate response Thursday.

Why toilet paper disappeared from stores is a frustrating mystery for government and health officials trying to manage the pandemic crisis and prevent consumer panic. Unlike disinfecting wipes, or paper towels soaked in bleach, toilet paper doesn’t kill the coronavirus, and the COVID-19 disease is a respiratory infection, not a stomach bug that necessitates frequent trips to the bathroom.


Watch the video: How Its Made: Toilet Paper (January 2022).