Psychological reasons behind toilet paper panic buying

Reflecting on different types on heuristics makes me immediately think of the recent phenomenon _ “toilet paper”. Just a few months ago, Finnish people rushed to supermarkets to buy and stock toilet paper when there was a Covid-19 outbreak in Finland. At that point, I thought that social behaviours were ridiculous. Now, I would say the “toilet paper” phenomenon is a consequence of herding behaviour, i.e. people doing what others do, instead of using their own information to make decisions, especially during uncertain time like Covid-19. This could also be defined as a bandwagon effect within the conformity bias theory, where you believe or do things because other people also do or believe them. Even if supermarket owners constantly communicated that there is no need of buying more than a normal amount of toilet paper, people still did it.

Although an individual might not have a primary need to use the product (e.g. your toilet has toilet faucet) or to buy such a great amount of product (e.g. you live alone but you buy 2 pack of 48 rolls), the fact seeing people around you do creates an urge for you to do so. Especially, if these people are your family members or close friends, the urge is more intense. In addition, cybermedia (e.g. Yle, Facebook) also affected our behaviours by showing us pictures of empty shelves at supermarket or lines of people at the toilet paper sector.  

This typical example proves that the influence of herding behaviour is can be very powerful. As a matter of fact, toilet paper panic buying did not only happen in Finland but also in Germany, the U.S. or Australia. As more viral videos of emptying stores were uploaded on social media channels, higher the panic buying was.