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  • Writer's pictureScott Sutherland

Who Bought All the Toilet Paper? Two-Thirds of Shoppers Say Their Neighbor Did it, According to Surv

Also, Two-Thirds of Shoppers Blame Governments’ Poor Communication for Panic that Drove Toilet Paper Hoarding Across the Country

We are almost two weeks into the shelter-in-place order and it’s still almost impossible to find paper products of nearly any kind in grocery stores and markets. This morning, I was in our local market and watched as store personnel unloaded a small pallet of toilet paper that was almost immediately snatched up by shoppers standing alongside the store workers restocking the shelves.

The situation is the same across the country, bare shelves in every store and no sign that the hoarding of bath tissue will see a drop any time soon. Like so many others, I just find it fascinating that people would respond to a respiratory ailment by snapping up every roll of toilet paper they can find. Honestly, it seems like people are concerned about the wrong human orifice.

We can all make jokes under our breath, or even out loud if you want since everyone is six feet away and probably won’t hear you anyway. But, in fact, this toilet paper hoarding points to a more serious issue that public officials need to address before our next pandemic or health emergency. The problem is that the communication that was intended to inspire people to prepare, instead motivated them to panic.

I decided to ask consumers why so many were racing to the store to purchase toilet paper. Shockingly, almost three-quarters of the people I surveyed said they didn’t buy more toilet paper than usual.

So, I asked, who do shoppers think is buying all the toilet paper? And about three-quarters surveyed blamed their neighbors for the toilet paper shortage. In fact, about three quarters of those I surveyed agreed with the statement that “other shoppers in [their] community have acted disgracefully in hoarding toilet paper.”

Clearly, people were so freaked out about the prospect of being unable to leave their houses, that they resorted to behavior so terrible that they had to disassociate from it. They can’t be the culprit, because their neighbor is.

In my survey, almost two-thirds (64 percent) say the government’s poor communication about managing the crisis was a major contributing factor to the run on toilet paper.

Almost two-thirds of shoppers told me while they did not overbuy, they personally witnessed other shoppers in their stores buying more toilet paper than they needed. Of the group that did admit to buying extra toilet paper, most admitted to buying 10 to 20 extra rolls. A handful in the survey said they bought 50 to 100 extra rolls.

A majority of those surveyed said that during the next pandemic or health crisis to shake the country, the government needs to set limits on toilet paper purchases. And according to the survey they may be right. A majority of shoppers say they aren’t going to change how they purchase toilet paper when we see our next national crisis, meaning a small group of people will make TP purchases difficult for the majority.

We all know that the toilet paper hoarding grabbed headlines. But you also couldn’t buy Tylenol or Advil, pasta, flour, and many canned goods. Even bread was hard to find. This kind of shopping behavior could have been worse, causing food shortages that might have created more difficult conditions or another disaster like widespread looting.

To prepare for the next pandemic, we not only need to figure out how to provide more protective equipment for first responders, but also — I might suggest — we need to have government officials think about how to better communicate. Leaders must communicate in a way that expresses the severity of the situation and the need for isolation, but also does not spark the panic and hoarding we are witnessing. This preparation will keep us all safer and not increase risk.

Methodology: The Toilet Paper Survey was conducted Friday, March 21 on SurveyMonkey and included responses from 300 American shoppers aged 19–64.


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