Facing a pandemic, people have emptied grocery shelves to stockpile toilet paper in their homes.

Toilet paper companies experienced a tremendous upsurge in revenue for the month of March, data from the Statista Consumer Market Outlook reveals.

Statista examined the revenue data of toilet paper in March 2020 compared with March 2019 in selected countries. They observed huge increases in toilet paper revenue for the countries that are heavily stricken by COVID-19.

Italy, for instance, saw a 140% increase in toilet paper sales in March 2020 compared to the same month of the previous year. Spain, which also bears among the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Europe recorded a heavy 82% increase in toilet paper sales. Meanwhile, the United States registered a 60% spike.

Panic-driven

The New York Post reported that the surge in the U.S. occurred mid-March, due to panic buying. However, they also noted that the demand for toilet paper in the country has calmed down since then.

Toilet paper supplies are not expected to run low, even if the coronavirus epicentre China for the longest time has been the biggest manufacturer of the product. In the worst case, only delays in restocking would occur.

However, panic buying quickly emptied the grocery shelves of toilet paper, with people fearing that supply will fall short. Apart from the fears due to the pandemic, false information regarding a shortage of toilet paper also circulated.

Sadly, this panic buying has caused some consumers to resort to violence. Take Australia for example, where an instance of drawing a knife during an argument between shoppers was reported.

Cultural differences

In contrast, these increases were not observed in Asian countries like Japan (14%), China (0%), and South Korea (0%) which also received considerable damage from the coronavirus outbreak.

For these countries, the idea of stockpiling toilet paper is probably quite perplexing, considering that the use of bidets is more popular in cleaning oneself in the bathroom for these nations.

It might have taken a pandemic for them to realize, but the U.S. is also picking up on a bidet curiosity, with increases in bidet sales recorded last month.

A trivial matter?

It is easy to dismiss these panics as trivial, considering how toilet papers are not as essential as say, food and water, during a crisis situation.

However, given how a lot of consumers haven’t experienced what it is like to be in a situation where massive supply shortages are possible, it is also easy to see why some consumers acted the way they did.

For businesses and governments, this is an opportunity to rethink the way we communicate with consumers. This is also a good time to consider how the supply chain will handle sudden increases in demand so as to avoid massive shocks.

Rather than considering them shallow-minded, this can be taken as a chance to educate consumers and to encourage them to practice compassion. Sometimes, doing these things starts with encouraging steps as small as buying just as much toilet paper is needed and leaving some for others.

The issue of panic buying will not be resolved by deciding which party gets to call the other ‘stupid.’ It is a matter that demands change from consumers and businesses alike.

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