Thursday, June 4, 2020

Doomsday toilet paper hoarding demystified

Well before social distancing measures had been introduced, there was already panic induced buying among shoppers in Botswana.

People rushed to grocery stores to buy basic commodities they would need in case there is a lockdown.

Even efforts by regulatory authorities to stress to Batswana that there won’t be any toilet paper shortages fell on deaf ears as people could be seen at the malls with trolleys full of toilet paper (not food). On social media, #toiletrollcrisis was at onepoint trending on Twitter and some grocery stores ended up enforcing a four-pack buying limit.

Gaborone based Psychologist Dr. Tebogo Maphosa says whilst the frenzy might seem normal since the entire world is grappling with a pandemic, a person’s personality explains the psychology behind why toilet paper remains a star attraction among the majority of shoppers. After all, who would want to be stuck on the toilet seat and realising that you’re down to the last square?

Dr. Maphosa says if instability is a large part of your make-up, then seeing empty shelves and people fighting for supposedly ‘scarce products’ overwhelms your thinking and activates a need for you to claim a piece of the share. “In extreme cases it can result in people fighting and injuring themselves just for a pack of tissues,” she says.

“The nightmare prospect scaring most Batswana who have become caught up in the fear of Covid-19 by buying toilet paper en masse is illogical. This is what we call herd mentality or FOMO (fear of missing out) syndrome and it is mainly controlled by social media and news coverage,” she says, adding that “when people see their friends or other people buying something en masse, they assume that there has to be a reason why they should also go and buy it too.”

Amongst other things, she says humans are always seeking for information and sometimes we do this by watching the way other people behave. This information can at times be negative like we see when people buy tissues en masse, and it can also be positive especially when you are told by health authorities not to panic horde or to always wash your hands.

But since humans are more responsive to fear than calm, it leads them to follow the crowd and panic buy because of the fear of losing out.

She also says grocery stores use predatory tactics in order to cash in on the panic among consumers. “Over the weekend, I saw a shop at Railpark Mall which had a banner for a particular brand of toilet roll which they were selling at a relatively lower rice. These are some the reasons why people end up panicking.

The toilet paper problem is not unique to Botswana as similar situations besieged other countries in the region and beyond which have been hit by the coronavirus.

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