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Time to put panic buying behaviours in quarantine

Toilet rolls230

STOP doing it. It’s ridiculous, it’s un-Australian and it must stop.

Those now famous words brandished by Prime Minister Scott Morrison – urging shoppers to put their panic-buying behaviours into quarantine – have reverberated around the nation louder than an echo in a cave.

But letting rip on those who panic will not stop a thing. Just check out the bare shelves in your local supermarket.

We need individuals to step up and try to understand what is driving their behaviour – and then put those behaviours into quarantine or isolation.

From Perth to Port Lincoln, Blackwater to Bells Bay, Darwin to Dubbo and Canberra to Castlemaine toilet paper, hand sanitisers, pasta, flour and a growing list of other commodities are being barricaded in broom closets.

Rather than abating, panic buying is intensifying with desperate mobs in supermarkets pressed up against each other to also undermine our increasingly stringent social distancing protocols.

In fact, these scenes have become so common that those with overflowing shopping trolleys have attracted a new name – magpies – for their acts of swooping in and taking away shiny objects including those of value.

Many regular customers now complain that products on supermarket shelves have been magpie’d.

Panic buying is, at a minimum, ridiculous and at worst nothing but irrational.

After all, unless you were confronted with the crappy problem of being down to your final few squares you most likely had no idea why you were in the queue to buy extra toilet rolls when you had plenty of provisions at home.  

Likely, you just saw others doing it and joined the rush for fear of missing out, or FOMO.

Let’s be clear: if there is one reliable and consistent feature of the coronavirus crisis – apart from the symptoms of fever, dry cough and body aches – it is panic buying.

Spare a thought for those in our workplaces who must bear the brunt of out-of-control shoppers.  

They must get out of the way of anxious shoppers tearing through grocery aisles, work tirelessly to restock shelves and, worst of all, cop customer abuse.

The reality is that panic buying is far more complicated than FOMO – and the only real way to get panic buyers to return their trolleys to their bays is to get them to confront the reasons for their behaviour.

If you are one of the millions who have been tearing down supermarket aisles to buy hundreds of unnecessary items and assemble an arsenal of products at home, consider this.

Perhaps the reason for your menacing shopping ways is to try to re-establish a sense of control.  

You don’t have FOMO but buy because we are in a pandemic, which is an out-of-control situation. 

By preparing for the worst, buying supplies and being “a smart shopper” makes you feel like you have regained some semblance of control.   

While panic buying might seem irrational, regaining control has a rational and strategic basis.

Think also about those among us who are always out to minimise risk. Most of us are motivated to avoid our own suffering at all costs.  

We go to the doctors to prevent unexpected health conditions and cross at the lights to minimise the chances of getting run over. We even go easy when we first start a romantic relationship for fear of getting hurt.

Some of us have a high-risk tolerance. But for those with low-risk tolerance, hoarding endless rolls of toilet paper is rational because it makes them feel they have taken reasonable precautions to minimise risk.

And ask yourself also whether your penchant for hoarding packs of pasta is purely emotionally driven. 

Emotionally, many of us are as fragile as a carton of wine glasses about to be shipped around the world.

We wouldn’t normally bother to stockpile but when confronted with the sight of cleaned-out aisles at our local supermarket, worry sets in. 

Besides, we have on social media that our friends are stockpiling.  

Even if worry is misguided, it is as contagious as the virus itself so off we go to join the crowds.

There are also those who have been around for a long time and have another reason for hoarding in times of a crisis: history.   

Especially older people, who have lived through cycles of economic booms and busts, recognise that necessities become more expensive when products become scarce. The $2 hand sanitiser rapidly becomes a $15 product when supplies are tight.

There is also a group of supermarket magpies who were hoarders before the onset of the COVID-19 crisis.  

Under the guise of “bulk buying”, they always stockpiled staples such as pasta, rice and canned foods.  For them, the pandemic just inflamed an existing condition.  

And when it came to the great toilet paper buy-up, the disgust factor drives people to hoard. 

People want to retain basic comforts if they believe they will be in lockdown for an extended period.

And experts say people threatened with infection such as that posed by a pandemic have a heightened sense of disgust.  

Disgust acts like an alarm clock by providing a wake-up call to avoid contamination.

Toilet paper is simply something that most of us are not prepared to part with – a minimum hygiene standard. It might also explain a rush on the purchases of bidets.

The fact is those of us who have not felt the urge – or had a reason – to go out and hoard have been among the biggest losers.  

Along with elderly and those with a disability, they remain in short supply of many basic products and supplies.

And it is not simply because products are sold out. Under increased pressure, some supermarkets have had to suspend online ordering to focus on in-store activities, in the process placing those who rely on home delivery services in peril.

For those with medical conditions who require vital medical supplies, the stockpiling by others is putting lives at risk.   

Already cases are emerging of shortages of treatments such as inhalers, which are used by many asthmatics.

Panic buying is not only ridiculous it is dangerous – and we need to stop it.     

But telling people to desist will not work. 

The key to bringing panic buying to a screaming halt – or at least slowing it down – is to understand the phenomenon and to quarantine it.  

Every panic buyer needs to do their bit by considering and identifying what drives their behaviour before they can put the brakes on their actions.

It is something that thousands of supermarket workers across the country are waiting patiently for.

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