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Out of stock: Online retailers affected by panic buying

Empty supermarket shelves March 11, 2020 (Colby Walker | KSL Newsradio)

If you’ve been to a supermarket in the past week you’ve probably been met by empty shelves as household staples are bought up by shoppers “panic buying” — and also preparing to stay home and practice social distancing.

These shortages have also reached into the online marketplaces as well.

Out of stock

Amazon has reported that they’re doing their best to keep up with demand, but that some of their stock of popular brands may take a while to make it back into stock.

READ MORE: COVID-19: Your questions, answered by the KSL factchecking team

“We believe our role serving customers and the community during this time is a critical one, and we want to make sure people can get the items they need, when they need them,” the company said Friday.

“As COVID-19 has spread, we’ve recently seen an increase in people shopping online. In the short term, this is having an impact on how we serve our customers. In particular, you will notice that we are currently out of stock on some popular brands and items, especially in household staples categories. You will also notice that some of our delivery promises are longer than usual. We are working around the clock with our selling partners to ensure availability on all of our products, and bring on additional capacity to deliver all of your orders.”

In addition to increasing their availability, Amazon says they are also working to ensure that no one is artificially raising their prices throughout their site.

“We’re also working to ensure that no one artificially raises prices on basic need products during this pandemic and have blocked or removed tens of thousands of items, in line with our long-standing policy. We actively monitor our store and remove offers that violate our policy.”

The psychology of panic buying

Sander van der Linden, an assistant professor of social psychology at Cambridge University, told CNBC that much of the “panic buying” that is happening around the globe comes from a “fear contagion.”

“When people are stressed their reason is hampered, so they look at what other people are doing. If others are stockpiling it leads you to engage in the same behavior,” he said. “People see photos of empty shelves and regardless of whether it’s rational it sends a signal to them that it’s the thing to do.”

“Sometimes there can be a lot of value in social knowledge — from an evolutionary perspective when we don’t know how to react to something, we look to others for guidance,” he added. “If you’re in the jungle and someone jumps away from a snake you automatically do the same thing. But sometimes that gets highjacked and you’re told to do something that’s not the right thing to do.”

During a briefing at the White House on Sunday, President Trump told the American people they don’t need to be buying as much as they are.

The President says that after speaking with a number of the nation’s top retailers and grocers that they’ve been working around the clock to make sure their shelves are stocked.

“Take it easy, just relax! They’ve asked me to say, could you buy a little bit less please.  I thought I’d never hear that from a retailer,” citing that purchases have been 3-5 times normal rates.

“There is enough for everyone”

The surge in panic buying has led many supermarket chains such as Walmart and Kroger to begin halting 24-hour services to allow time to clean, disinfect, and restock their stores.

Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of the retail consultant Strategic Resource Group, told the LA Times that the demand and disruption to supply chains haven’t reached this level even during natural disasters and that it could take several weeks before conditions improve.

In a joint letter from UK retailers, they reminded shoppers that there is enough for everyone.  We aren’t consuming any more than before, just buying more.

“There is enough for everyone if we all work together,” it adds.

“We understand your concerns but buying more than is needed can sometimes mean that others will be left without.

“Together we can make sure we are looking out for family, friends, neighbors.”

How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronavirus is transmitted from person to person. It is a virus that is similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet)
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities.)
  • Get a flu shot.

Local resources

State of Utah:

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States