Here's why people are fighting over the last pack of toilet paper | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Here's why people are fighting over the last pack of toilet paper

Superstore was completely emptied of toilet paper March 6.
Image Credit: Kathy Michaels

If you’re perplexed by the panic-buying of toilet paper — which offers no conceivable advantage to normal preparations for the COVID-19 pandemic — Eric Li isn’t.

The associate UBCO professor who studies human and market trends in emergency situations has seen it before.

In 2011, Japan saw a similar buying frenzy with salt when the Fukushima Nuclear power plant melted down after an earthquake and tsunami. An online rumour spread about salt and how it could dilute radiation poisoning, Li said, which was incorrect, but Japanese markets were soon cleared out of the mineral.

“People are panicking to stock things up and toilet paper is one because it’s part of their daily necessities,” he said.

READ MORE: Toilet paper frenzy: Kelowna residents clear out store shelves over coronavirus concerns

Store shelves have also been emptied of hand sanitizer and masks for the last month.


It’s exacerbated by social media, and the trend in the Okanagan and Kamloops was likely influenced, as many things are, by actions in Vancouver. 

They’re motivated by fear for themselves and their loved ones and what they see on social media creates the frenzy, he said.

“The information through social media of people talking about running out of (products) in Vancouver which is only a few hundred miles away from us, (it makes us think) now we have to stock up because one day my family will suffer.”

No one needs five packs of toilet paper for the next month, but we see people doing that because people follow others, he said. It’s called panic buying.

“In these emergency situations we can see this extreme overconsumption,” he said.

Canned goods, over-the-counter medications and hygiene items become a priority for people, he said.

Stores are also not prepared for short-term overconsumption, he said, adding there is a need for government intervention.

Limiting the sale of items like toilet paper to each customer would allow for more people to get what they need and prevent TP sales on the black market, Li said.

“They don’t think about the community or others, by buying 50 packs of toilet paper… and then other residents in Kelowna don’t have access to even one roll.”

This can impact lower-income families who may not be able to buy the rolls, he said.

People need to think about the impact their purchase has on the community but it’s challenging to change human behaviour, he said.

In Taiwan, the government limited the sale of masks which allows citizens to buy what they need, he said.

It gives the manufacturer the opportunity to keep up with the demand and it’s good for brand recognition, Li said, by providing citizens with toilet paper.

If everyone could have two packs of toilet paper, you can have more customers purchasing rolls rather than the first come, first serve method with 50 people clearing out the shelves, he said.

“Technically you’re creating a scenario that gets more people panicking,” he said, adding now people will line up in Costco to buy the rolls.

If there are people with 5,000 packs of toilet paper and the Okanagan stores run out, people will be paying 10 or 20 times more than the regular market price on the black market, he said.

Governments can also penalize businesses that don’t comply, he said.

For Okanagan residents, he recommends being an “ethical consumer” in emergency situations.

“Yes, you can buy a little bit more just in case but we all learned from history that hopefully this coronavirus will cool down within three months and everything will go back to normal,” he said.


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