It’s not just here in the UK that panic buying is rife. Over in the US, they have similar issues. It started with a shortage of hand wash and toilet roll but now it’s becoming more widespread with more obscure items like Twinkies and oat milk in short supply.
The experts have given their verdict on the reasons for the panic buying and they may be surprising. They believe it’s about control or rather a lack of. Consumers, it is said, feel powerless and therefore they take control of the one thing they can, their homes. So it is no surprise then that Costco, wholesalers, is seeing the majority of the panic buying.
An anonymous employer at their Oregon store brandished the scenes at her warehouse as both crazy and nonstop. She refused to be armed for fear of retribution by customers.
The extremes that customers have gone to have been obscene. Some shoppers have set up camp outside the shop more than two hours before it opens. A little under two weeks ago the Costco staff member had more than 660 cardholders enter the shops within the first quarter of an hour of the shops opening.
More than you would guess
That doesn’t necessarily tell the full story either as many of those shoppers brought guests in with them. Some branches have now put limits on the number of shoppers that can enter at one time, although a fair few have yet to do this. Unofficial figures have suggested that visits to outlets such as Costco are up almost forty percent, this rate is even higher in the New York area.
While the sheer quantity of shoppers brings complications of its own, it is the behaviour of some of these customers that has led to the most consternation.
The store has helped limit their issues by placing restrictions on commonly brought good like eggs, bread, baby wipes etc. This has helped to deter hoarding practices. But the sheer amount of shoppers has made it hard for staff to keep up with routine duties such as lowering pallets on to lower levels so customers can access goods. This wouldn’t be a massive deal except some people have taken it upon themselves to scale the steel storage structures to get “essentials” like noodles and rice.
On top of dangerous acts like that you have people trying to play the system. The employee commented:
“We’ve had little old ladies fighting, people trying to change outfits and their appearance to come back through the line again, not knowing we’ve keyed our systems to limit them.”
The sales for their second quarter have confirmed, to the surprise of nobody that “February sales benefited from an uptick in consumer demand. … We attribute this to concerns over the coronavirus, and estimate the positive impact on total and comparable sales to be approximately 3%.”
So you might think all is rosy if you work for Costco. U fortunately not. The Oregan employer claims it has been pretty traumatic, having to endure 11-hour shifts and having phones ringing around the clock to ask inane questions about stock levels.
It’s also meant that workers have had to be flexible about the roles they fulfil to cover inevitable staff absence. And that stress has started to take hold. She commented,
“A guy in line [said] because I was so chatty, I was the reason his children would go without toilet paper, which we sold out of long before he showed up at Costco; he’s yelling, cursing at me on the way out. Usually, I can let people roll off my back pretty easily, but with the nonstop stress lately, it’s been hard to take things in stride.”