Panic Buying and Herd Mentality

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Panic Buying and Herd Mentality

Source: Filmagentur Rheingau

The logic behind stockpiling non-perishable goods in the first lockdown

When the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, consumer's behavior in Germany changed rapidly. While restaurants, bars and cafeterias had to close, sales of non-perishable foods such as pasta and flour as well as other goods like toilet paper drastically increased. What was the logic behind this wave of panic buying and what did consumers think about it? In order to find some answers, scientists from Hochschule Geisenheim University startet an online survey during the first lockdown in early summer 2020, which focuses on the logic behind stockpiling non-perishable foods. 488 respondends from all population groups were surveyed proportionately according to age, gender, income and region.

In general, the majority of respondends perceived panic buying as negative and unnecessary, or even blamed it as selfish and lacking solidarity. However, the more positive respondents were towards panic buying, the more likely they were to stockpile goods themselves. One quarter of all respondents said that they stockpiled non-perishable foods at the end of March/beginning of April 2020. Research has shown that various reasons were driving the wave of panic buying. One major factor was that people felt uncertain about the situation in general and were particularly anxious about the food supply in the country. Even though the majority was confident that there was enough food to go around, half of the respondents saw empty shelves in supermarkets or reported that shops put limits on purchasing certain items. Anxiety that certain products might be sold out soon further fueled irrational stockpiling.

Herd mentality was another driving factor for hoarding certain items. The more respondents felt that others were stockpiling, the more likely they were to buy excessive amounts of goods themselves. Some respondents described this as "herd mentality" and said that other people's behavior prompted them to stockpile, too. "It is reasonable to assume that media reports about empty shelves have fueled a kind of herd instinct to pile up on certain goods," scientists said. Another reason for buying larger quantities is that shoppers went to the stores less frequently in order to reduce the risk of infection -  a fact that has already been established by other surveys.

"Over the last month, many studies and surveys on panic buying have been conducted. At the beginning of the current lockdown we have seen less panic buying than at the beginning of the pandemic," explains Dr. Mira Lehberger from the Department of Fresh Produce Logistics at Hochschule Geisenheim University. According to the scientists it would be interesting to compare the different stages of the lockdown in order to understand changes in consumer behavior.

About the survey

The results of the survey have been published in the scientific journal Appetite with the title “Panic buying in times of coronavirus (COVID-19): Extending the theory of planned behavior to understand the stockpiling of nonperishable food in Germany” and are available here https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2021.105118.