CA 'Panic Shopping' 2.0: Walmart, Costco Supplies Low Again

Kat Schuster
·4 min read

CALIFORNIA — With the announcement that California is in the midst of its biggest coronavirus surge yet, some shoppers didn't waste any time hightailing it to local markets to stockpile once again. While the so-called "panic shopping" hasn't appeared to be as widespread as it was in March, some stores were already drained of their toilet paper and cleaning supplies Wednesday.

Shoppers in Temecula had already emptied the paper and cleaning aisle in a local Walmart by Wednesday morning. Other stores, such as Trader Joe's in the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles and Ralphs on West NInth Street, were simply running low on such supplies.

A worker at a Costco in Los Angeles, who wished to remain anonymous, said the store was selling out of toilet paper every day, among other supplies, but also said that this could be attributed to the Thanksgiving holiday coming up next week.

Other stores, such as the Rite Aide on Second Street in Long Beach and a Foods Co. on Folsom Street in San Francisco, remained fully stocked Wednesday with little panic shopping or ransacking in sight.

In March, Californians were hard-pressed to find any store that had had even one bottle of hand sanitizer left on the shelf. Gloves, Clorox wipes, paper towels, cleaning supplies, hand soap, frozen food and food staples such as rice or any type of meat were sold out everywhere.

But the worst of the early pandemic ransacking may have been the widespread shortage of toilet paper. The essential, everyday paper product quickly became a coveted item and a scarce commodity as stores ran out statewide.

Some became so desperate that they resorted to theft. In April, the Port Hueneme Police Department said it busted three Californians in a "heinous toilet paper caper." The three suspects were caught with 31 rolls of stolen toilet paper, 31 towels, 4 sets of bed sheets and 27 tissue boxes in a vehicle in Port Hueneme, police said.

Others, also desperate to remedy the situation, installed bidets in their homes. But even those sold out. A spokesman from the home product company Brondell, which sells a plethora of bidet toilet seats and accessories, told Business Insider in March that the company was selling a bidet on Amazon every two minutes, or about 1,000 units per day.

And while many stores reported Wednesday that their shelves were stocked, other experts have said these early indications of panic shopping could lead to a more serious situation sooner than later.

Burt P. Flickenger III, with Strategic Resource Group, told Patch Wednesday that these early signs of stockpiling could be bad news for retailers.

"Panic buying, which is just starting, will reach unprecedented proportions within the next few weeks to few months," Flickenger said in an email. "For perspective ... panic buying has accelerated far more since the election than it did at the beginning of ... early March."

Panic buying, as its been dubbed during the COVID-19 pandemic, led to widespread supply chain disruptions in the early months of the pandemic. And as retailers struggled to adjust to meet the sudden demand, psychologists were working to understand what leads people to panic shopping.

A May study conducted by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health revealed that such behaviors are largely triggered by fear.

"In survival psychology, it is widely acknowledged that individuals may undergo behavioural changes following major events such as natural disasters and disease outbreaks that potentially disrupt social lives or even threaten individuals’ health," researchers wrote in the May 18 study.

Researchers said that panic buying is largely influenced by the fear of the unknown and that such shopping behaviors provide a way to cope with that fear and to "relieve anxiety and regain control over the crisis."

Despite the resurgence of some empty shelves and frantic shoppers, it remains to be seen whether stores and their corresponding supply chains across the state and the country will be more prepared for another potential toilet paper and cleaning supply shortage.

The panic was likely reignited among Californians after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday that 94 percent of residents in the state would shift back under the state's toughest COVID-19 restrictions as cases doubled over a 10-day period.

Newsom announced Monday that a staggering 40 counties would have to move back on the state's COVID-19 risk assessing blueprint by Tuesday, reversing reopening plans statewide. Forty-one counties now sit in the purple tier and are under the state's tightest restrictions.

"Every age group, every demographic, racial, ethnic, in every part of the state we are seeing case rates increase," Newsom said Monday. "We are seeing community spread broadly."

The governor also announced that he and other state officials were looking into imposing a statewide curfew Monday. On Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said he would back that idea "if it was sound."

On Wednesday, the state announced 9,811 new cases, up 0.9 percent from Tuesday. Officials recorded 1,047,789 total cases and 18,360 deaths related to COVID-19 as of Wednesday.

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This article originally appeared on the Across California Patch