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Toilet Paper Is the 'Icon' of Panic Buying

Shoppers are looking for a sense of control, say psychologists
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 12, 2020 9:00 AM CDT

(Newser) – Anyone who's been in a supermarket of late has likely seen the empty shelves for hand sanitizers and ... toilet paper? The latter is seen as a prime example of panic buying amid the coronavirus outbreak, and not just in the US. Coverage:

  • The psychology: Toilet paper is sort of an "icon" for panic buying in times of trouble, Dimitrios Tsivrikos of University College London tells CNBC. "In times of uncertainty, people enter a panic zone that makes them irrational and completely neurotic." In this case, we have the combo of a scary new virus and buyers looking to give themselves a sense of control. In that context, shoppers are looking "for value and high volumes," he says, and those bulk packages of TP do the trick.
  • No shortage: The weird thing is that the US imports less than 10% of its toilet paper, notes economist Jay Zagorsky in the Conversation. If we got most of our supply from overseas, that would be a problem, but about 150 US companies make the stuff. Thus, there is no shortage of toilet paper in America, just temporarily bare shelves as people hoard supplies for the psychological reasons cited above.

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