I am working on a blog article going beyond the immediate effects of the Coronavirus crisis. In the meantime, my latest impressions and thoughts.
I drove around for half an hour yesterday (Saturday) evening, eventually visiting a small Tesco (supermarket chain) convenience store in a former village now effectively part of a small town. Polite (Polish) staff member (one of only two ppl working there) told me that they had no eggs or milk. I myself bought the very last loaf of bread (crusty brown wholemeal) and the last two longlife (sealed) pitta breads (apparently good until end of May). Admittedly, that was after 2000 hrs, so near their new closing time of 2200 (formerly midnight), but the store would not have been short of goods in normal times.
Driving around, I passed a couple of pubs. Seemed empty, as far as could be glimpsed. On a usually busy evening, almost no traffic. An ambulance was followed by a supermarket delivery van. There is a feeling of “emergency time”. At a location on the edge of a small town, where there is a convenience store, a Chinese takeaway, a Malay/Chinese takeaway, an Indian takeaway and a fish and chip shop (all but the Indian and the convenience store staffed entirely by Chinese), only one car parked instead of the usual dozen.
I see on the TV news the continued madness of the panic-buyers. The Press and msm generally call it “greed”. No, this is a manifestation of an even more powerful emotion: fear.
The Government continues to plead for reason and moderation. This is ineffective because
- Emotion is more powerful than intellectual reason. The Government is trying to reason with people motivated by fear, one of the most powerful emotions;
- Even on the intellectual level, it may seem reasonable to many to buy a far greater amount of what they usually consume, in a situation where (whatever the authorities may say) there are shortages of some basic items at ground level.
- The Government may be correct in saying that, in the big scheme of things, “there is no shortage” of anything, but people see before their own eyes that there are shortages, albeit caused entirely by bulk buying.
- The Government asks millions of people to “self-isolate” for three months and maybe longer, but cannot guarantee supplies of food and other essential items to those millions. In those circumstances, bulk buying is not really “panic buying” at all. An elderly (or other) couple might well use 50 rolls of loo paper and 50+ packs of pasta (etc) in three months. Some people probably are buying, even on that basis, far more than they really need, but that is because of the prevailing climate of fearful uncertainty.
There will be reached a peak of buying, but exactly when that peak will be reached is hard to say. It has financial factors (what can people afford?) and simple logistical factors (how much storage space do people have?).
In the end, the lemming-like buying wave, mainly triggered by emotion (fear) will only subside when emotion moves the other way. When people see that the stores are replenished daily and more than daily, when it is seen that the shelves are no longer being immediately stripped bare, consumer confidence will return. Those who bought huge amounts of this or that will start to use what they have been buying; they will not buy more. That in turn will stabilize the supermarket shelves. Equilibrium will be restored.
Only emotion can sway an existing emotional state. Appeals to reason have almost no effect.