The Cost of Panic Buying

In light of recent events, I’ve been thinking a lot more about the effects of media on the public and how misinformation or control of information can lead to disastrous consequences. I don’t believe anyone truly has the answers yet so here are a few questions to ask instead. There will be a few posts coming covering certain questions to inspire you to not only think about the world but also to go out and try to understand it.

We all have experienced (or at least heard of) the panic buying in the country over the last few months just as we are all aware of the totally irrational behaviour of doing so. But what leads to this state?

Did the media have an effect?

Looking back on the stories, published near the beginning of the year, it seems clear that panic buying was not being performed by the majority. It wasn’t until media stories highlighting the panic buying in other countries and, highlighting the smaller minority doing this in the UK that we suddenly saw a huge spike in demand at supermarkets. Naturally, this changed the mentality of the population who went from their usual state of buying food as usual for the week to feeling as though everyone is rushing out to buy food and if they don’t do the same they will be left without. This is one of the dangers of media. The embellishment of a story in order to pull you in (Commonly called “Clickbait”) unfortunately leads to the emotional response that these stories are designed to induce. Therefore, the more likely you will spread it to followers, friends and family members and react in unusual ways. It seems fair to assume that the more stories people read about the lack of essential items in supermarkets the more people will be willing to buy excessive quantities for fear of there being none the next day.

Once this idea has taken hold it is very hard to revert back. The government, experts, supermarkets and online stores have repeatedly stated that there is no need to overbuy as they have enough food for everyone yet none of these statements had any positive effect. There are a number of reasons why this may be the case.

  1. Some felt that the rest of the population wouldn’t comply so they chose not to either.
  2. The strength of social groups which is where stories shared amongst close friends / family members are more believable than those coming from external groups regardless of the experience or evidence.
  3. The necessity of food overruled the facts. People wouldn’t take the risk that these bodies could be wrong.

There is always the issue that the media publicises what it wants you to see. Although the media showed many examples of the extreme excessive buying it is likely that this necessarily isn’t the case for the majority. It is far more likely that people are shopping more regularly (due to the lack of products varying one day to the next) and picking up a small amount of extra items each time. This is something I will touch on in my next post regarding the problems with efficiency.

As of writing this it does appear that supermarkets are releasing statements noting a decline in these excessive purchases. Although some of the essentials might still be a challenge to get as stock supply ramps up. Is this due to the efforts of the experts saying there is no reason to panic buy? Is it due to the media publicising and shaming those panic buy? Or is it simply that those likely to panic buy have now filled up on stock?

I hope you have found some of this interesting and it has mentioned questions you haven’t thought of or maybe inspired you to think of your own questions. So I will leave you with one final one.

Should we hold accountable the media for what it spreads as part of a social responsibility or allow them to continue using free speech to make money?

Stay tuned for the next post and sound off in the comments what you think!


Photo by David Veksler on Unsplash