The COVID-19 pandemic prompted shortages in food and supplies that haven't been seen since the Depression era. It also shifted, practically overnight, trends in consumer buying behaviors, turning previously mundane items into hot commodities.
Toilet paper, cleaning supplies and nonperishable foods flew off store shelves in the pandemic's early days while, in the weeks and months that followed, disruptions in manufacturing and the supply chain contributed to shortages among lumber, appliances, aluminum cans, meat and even coins.1
Supplies of some of these items, like toilet paper, have rebounded in many parts of the world, but other staples, like hand soap, can still be hard to come by. It remains to be seen whether a "second wave" of COVID-19 will hit in the coming months, prompting additional lockdowns.
However, in the U.S., the government appears to be preparing citizens for the worst, even though indicators that track COVID-19-like illness and the percentage of laboratory tests that are positive for SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — have decreased nationally since mid-July, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).2
Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has served as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since 1984, also stated that Americans shouldn't expect to return to normal anytime soon, even if a fast-tracked COVID-19 vaccine is released. "If you're talking about getting back to a degree of normality which resembles where we were prior to COVID, it's going to be well into 2021, maybe even towards the end of 2021," he said in a news release.3
With that in mind, it's always a good idea to be prepared in the event you find yourself quarantined, isolated or living in an area with strict lockdowns in place that trigger another round of panic buying.
Following are some of the most important items to stock up on now, but first it's important to understand the psychological reasons why lockdowns may contribute to panic buying and increased hoarding — even when it's not necessary.
Perceptions of Scarcity Trigger Panic Buying
In a letter to the editor of the journal Psychiatry Research, researchers noted that public health emergencies have prompted panic buying, or increased buying behaviors, since ancient times.4 There are some psychological explanations, including the fact that a perception of scarcity is linked with panic buying and hoarding, along with feelings of insecurity that trigger people's desire to collect things.
At the same time, a pandemic can contribute to the perception that you're losing control over your environment, and along with it induce fear and anxiety. When you feel you can't control the pandemic, the ability to control your purchases and collect necessities may help bring back a sense of control.
Meanwhile, the stockpiling of goods may be perceived as a method of preparing for and coping with pandemics, and when people see others in their community panic buying, "people tend to indulge to buy madly," they wrote, adding that it may be a form of herd instinct.