With news of increasing cases of Coronavirus (Covid-19) reported around the world, some consumers have been stockpiling key supermarket products such as hand sanitiser, frozen goods and toilet roll. Pictures of empty supermarket shelves have become commonplace, circulating in the media and being shared online.

This consumer behaviour has been slammed as irrational and unhelpful by many who say that they fail to understand why shoppers are feeling so panicked by potential shortages, especially of products such as toilet roll, which has no specific links to a cure or prevention of the Coronavirus.

The rationale behind those failing to understand this behaviour is that there is not yet any supply-induced scarcity. However, it is evident that the real motivation behind this panic buying is a demand-induced scarcity, driving consumers to react to potential product shortages that they are seeing online.

In its Q3 2019 consumer survey, GlobalData found that over one-third (35%) of millennial consumers are actively buying products that are trending on social media and in a world where online and social platforms are purposely designed to create and promote trends, is it really any wonder that consumers are going bonkers for bog roll?

Retailers and brands now regularly include features on their online sites that show consumers how many products are left in stock, as well as low availability of certain products that consumers may be interested in, in real-time, in order to encourage them to buy. Brands and manufacturers are also aware of how limited editions and FOMO (fear of missing out) can contribute to the hype around certain products and drive sales.

Consumer’s reactions to rare or scarce products are purposely nurtured and exploited to encourage sales on a daily basis, the only difference this time is that it has not originated from a marketing ploy.