Coronavirus in San Diego County

Shoppers Fear Worsening COVID-19 Outlook Could Lead to Another Round of Panic Buying

NBC Universal, Inc.

Retail merchants are urging consumers to buy only what they need as coronavirus cases spike nationwide so that we can avoid a rash of panic buying similar to what the country saw earlier this year when shoppers were hoarding things like toilet paper, paper towels and hygiene supplies.

"I was staring at the empty shelves and wondering what’s going on?" Walmart shopper Sandi Smith said Wednesday.

While we’ve learned some lessons since the spring, but is buying only what we need not one of them?

Empty shelves, and dwindling supplies of paper goods and cleaning supplies have been seen at some stores since San Diego County slipped into the Purple Tier. Some shoppers worried, especially with the holidays right around the corner.

"People need to think of other people first,” shopper Sue Bearden said.

Bearden does the shopping for her home, and as a senior care giver she shops for many others.

"In the spring I had problems with my clients helping them keep stuff stocked at home because you would go to order online and it was gone online too," Bearden said.

In the current climate, consumers' sense of urgency is increasing, SDSU Marketing professor Miro Copic said.

“The fact of the matter is you should stock up with your normal usage patterns. Maybe you pick up an extra one but don't pick up 10," Copic said.

Some Vista Walmart shelves were practically empty Wednesday night even though there was a one-per-customer limit on those items.

"If people don't need it right then and there then I don't think that they should be stocking up because it leaves someone without it," shopper Deme Thornton said.

Photos: Signs of the Coronavirus Impact in San Diego

Manufacturers stepped up production, according to Copic, but aren't throwing money at what appears to be short-term demand.

"To expand production, and the demand doesn't follow it later is major issue for companies," Copic said.

Staying calm while production catches up with need seems to be the best marketing medicine, but Copic thinks only a working vaccine and a decrease in positivity rates will help eliminate the panic buying.

Other retailers that depend on Black Friday sales have the opposite problem. They have the supply, but store capacity is limited by Purple Tier restrictions.

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