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Stop Panic Buying

The toilet roll curse is back in the form of cars queuing in huge numbers for fuel at garages in many parts of England. Before petrol and diesel, it was fizzy drinks because of a perceived shortage of carbon dioxide. It’s time to strap in for a bumpy ride this Christmas. As we have no control over the bigger picture, we crave to control our mini-world (home & daily routines), so we buy in extra supplies. Are you prone to panic buying?


Don’t panic Captain Mainwaring

Panic buying is a fear of losing control, a physiological reaction to stress. There is not only a fear of missing out, fuelled by images on social media, but also a signal that our norms are being violated. Once a norm is in place, people generally adhere to it because it makes life easier. In times of a perceived crisis, the new norm is adopted (panic buy) to regain control.

How to stop panic buying?

The key is to prevent the spread of the emerging harmful norms.

  • Consistent messaging focusing on the availability of food, fuel etc. This includes the negative effects of panic-buying on society. If key workers cannot drive to hospital or to the meat plants, many will suffer.
  • Reduced social media signals that drive panic buying. Seeing pictures of empty shelves or closed garages send out scarcity signals. The government and social media companies need to work together tell people to avoid sharing empty shelf stories.
  • Removing the signals from the environment, where supermarkets change their operations to becoming online only with vulnerable and non-internet users being allowed to visit stores to order deliveries. This reduces the need for queuing and seeing the empty shelves.
  • Restoring individual control to reduce the feelings of the fear of losing control. People need to understand the impacts of panic buying has on key workers and other vulnerable people.

Special to the British way of life is our ability to line up in an orderly queue. We never queue jump on purpose. It stems from government propaganda in WW2, where they forged our queuing ethos as a nation. Being in a line was about doing your duty and taking your turn drawing on notions of decency, fair play, and democracy. So when we see a line of cars, we want to join the queue. Step back and avoid panic buying. 

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Date: 04 October 2021 by max robinson