Wednesday | 25 March | 2020
By Melodie Veldhuizen
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement on Sunday night, 15 March 2020 regarding the prescriptions for all citizens in terms of the coronavirus which has also taken a hold in South Africa, seems to have caused panic among South Africans. Panic about the health threat it holds. But also panic that necessities will not be available anymore overnight.
Monday morning, shortly after grocery stores opened their doors, rumours of empty shelves started spreading like wildfire on social media. Users that normally just did shopping monthly, twice weekly or weekly to fill up their stock of food, fridge items and freezer items rushed to the shops in a panic, different from their scheduled shopping time. Some went for necessities, while other just went to buy whatever, “just in case”.
This led to some consumers leaving the shop with trolleys full of probably less needed products and others left frustrated and worried with empty hands having to visit other shops to see if they could still find a bread, a litre of milk or other necessities at a different supermarket.
Panic buying is when consumers buy unusually large amounts of a product or products with the expectation that a disaster will occur or after a disaster has struck. This also happens when there is, as expected, for whatever reason, a shortage of certain products.
Typical behaviour of panic-stricken buyers
People decide to go shopping at the spur of the moment, mostly without a shopping list. The aim is to fill their cupboards, fridges and freezers just in case the products they might need will no longer be available.
Groceries are based on availability of products rather than preference or price. Supermarkets are filled with panic-stricken buyers and there are long lines of people waiting to pay. In addition, you fear that you will contract the disease because of the huge concentration of people in the shops. In your rush to get what you are looking for and driven by the fear and rush of other buyers you grab whatever you see without comparing prices or even looking for the specific brand you love. In this way items that you would not normally buy and of which a big percentage will not be used, end up in your trolley.
- Trolleys overloaded with superfluous goods
From fear that certain products will not be available anymore, people buy much more of a specific item than what they’ll ever be able to use. As a result, people spend a lot more than what they would have during their normal monthly grocery shopping trip.
Financial and other implications for panic buyers and other consumers
Panic buying affects the consumer’s finances in many ways, but this behaviour also has negative implications for other users.
- Since people are buying much more than their usual monthly shopping trip, they also spend much more than usual. Even if all these products are used in the end, such an unplanned expenditure can hamper one financially. If some of the goods are not used, a lot of money wasted.
- With a tight budget, if you do not have a bit of extra cash to cover this unexpected expenditure, it is easy to use your credit card. At high interest rates, the purchases end up costing you much more in the end than on the cash register slip. This can overthrow your budget for a few months.
- This additional financial burden causes stress, which negatively impacts your physical and emotional wellbeing.
- The hours spent in line at pay points is time you could have used to do other things. If you are an entrepreneur, it is valuable worktime and money that can be lost.
- By making unnecessary and excessive purchases, you may be depriving other people or families from good that they might need more than you.
- People who must wait for their salary, pension or allowance cannot go shopping immediately, and they suffer from this. By the time they have money the shelves are empty.
How can we bridge this problem?
It is understandable that people become anxious during these difficult and unpredictable times, but the problem can be overcome if every citizen gives his or her cooperation.
- Do not go to the shops without a shopping list of that which you absolutely need; buy only what you would’ve bought under normal circumstances and which is almost finished.
- Only buy the amounts that you will use in a reasonable period of time.
- Do not buy unnecessary products out for fear for scarcity.
- Offer help to people who cannot reach the shops during these difficult times or who does not have the necessary finance available.
Minister Ebrahim Patel, Minister of Trade and Industries is warning South Africa to avoid panic buying because sufficient quantities of all essential products are produced locally. This will ensure that supply chains are maintained, and that imports and exports will continue. The close of harbours are only for people, not products. He also warned that panic buying leads to more anxiousness.
Business Tech: https://businesstech.co.za/news/government/381945/mass-quarantines-emergency-funding-and-avoiding-panic-buying-heres-south-africas-coronavirus-disaster-plan/
Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-science-behind-behavior/202003/how-panic-buying-affects-our-personal-finances
Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/motivate/202003/5-ways-overcome-the-psychological-stress-coronavirus
* All information was correct at the time of publication.