As rumours swirl of toilet rolls disappearing off supermarket shelves once more, some retailers are taking precautionary action to ensure everyone has enough.
Morrisons has limited certain items such as toilet rolls and disinfectant products to three per customer, despite saying stock levels were “good”.
“We are introducing a limit on a small number of key products, such as toilet roll and disinfectant,” a spokesperson said. “Our stock levels of these products are good but we want to ensure that they are available for everyone.”
Meanwhile Tesco has implemented a limit on items like flour, dried pasta, toilet roll, baby wipes and anti-bacterial wipes – so customers can only buy three of each. There are additional limits for a small number of products online, such as rice and canned vegetables.
A Tesco spokesperson told HuffPost UK: “We have good availability, with plenty of stock to go round, and we would encourage our customers to shop as normal. To ensure that everyone can keep buying what they need, we have introduced bulk-buy limits on a small number of products.”
Other supermarkets have shut down claims that items like toilet rolls are in short supply and, as a result, are not implementing any measures at this time.
In response to HuffPost UK’s request for comment, an Asda spokesperson said they aren’t seeing evidence in a change of customer behaviour. The supermarket has “good availability” in stores, they said, as well as through its online slots.
However it has announced new measures this week, which includes the creation of 1,000 new safety marshals stationed at the front of every store and in the aisles of larger stores. They will be on hand to help customers with safety queries and reiterate government guidelines to wear a face covering and maintain social distancing.
Sainsbury’s also has good availability of products like toilet roll and Waitrose did not respond to a request for comment.
A spokesperson for Sainsbury’s said in an email: “Customers can continue to shop with confidence in our stores, where they will see we have good availability. We aren’t currently restricting products.”
There is confidence there will be enough toilet roll to go around, despite sales rising by 23% in the past week. Toilet roll manufacturer WEPA Group told The Guardian it expected sales to remain high, but insisted that supplies would not run out.
While panic-buying is an understandable reaction to an uncertain situation, it can have a profound impact on supply chains – and people’s everyday lives.
In March, when the fear of a strict lockdown was impending, supermarkets wrote an open letter to the British public urging people not to panic-buy and limits were placed on certain items so there was enough to go around.
Therapists believe people panic-buy because of anxiety and needing some way to take back control. Psychotherapist Nick Blackburn previously told HuffPost UK people are trying to “solve” their anxiety by buying supplies, but when they get to the shops, they’re likely to experience more anxiety because items are running low.
Then there’s the added anxiety of being criticised or hearing snarky comments by others for doing it – in the supermarket or all over social media. “That’s not the way to make fearful people feel better,” Blackburn said.
Hansa Pankhania, a therapist of 25 years and member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, said it’s also driven by helplessness, fear and loss of control. When people panic-buy it’s a “gesture”, she told us earlier in the year – they’re doing something to help themselves in an otherwise helpless situation. When we have no control over the bigger picture, we crave control in our “micro world” – our home and daily routines. And in this case, people are doing it by buying up supplies.
There’s also the fear element – understandable when Covid-19 cases are rising again. On top of that, people are scared of running out of food or supplies, said Pankhania, so there’s the basic survival instinct of: “If I don’t have food, I’ll die.”
“The news is saturated with people dying or feeling ill,” she said. “Listening to that kind of news, day in day out, is going to trigger our survival instinct even more. Generally human beings aren’t very good at dealing with uncertainty, this is their way of having some certainty.”