Fear-based consumerism is emptying shelves in the Okanagan and across the province as some people have begun stockpiling goods due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That’s according to Eric Li, a UBC Okanagan researcher who studies market trends and human reactions to them.
Despite assurances from the provincial government that there will be no shortage of goods, Li said “panic buying” is leading to several issues in terms of availability and affordability.
“Having five years of stock at home is not reasonable — and it might not be ethical,” he said.
Li recalled a similar panic during Japan’s 2011 nuclear meltdown in Fukushima. Rampant false rumours spread on social media lauding salt as a cure to radiation poison, Li said. Soon enough, the shelves were empty, much like Okanagan grocery stores are now.
“Incidents like this create panic among consumers,” he said. “They worry about if all the shops shut down or the supply chain shuts down.”
That over-consumerism, as Li sees it, is much the same now as it was in Japan’s 2011 disaster.
The shelves of B.C. grocery stores are being cleared of essential goods: toilet paper, canned foods, cleaning supplies and even meats. Medical supplies have also been hard to get ahold of over the past few months with shops quickly selling out of masks and hand sanitizer.
Social media, with an even stronger grip on people’s attention now than in 2011, certainly isn’t helping either.
Li said people should think critically about the information — and potential misinformation — they consume related to COVID-19.
“A lot of us who are being greedy have the capability to analyze the reliability of that information,” he said. “’Is that really true? Is that really (in my location)?’
With the mass-information coming in showing panic and quarantine across the world, it’s natural to want to buy a little bit extra but everybody needs to have the opportunity to stock up, said Li.
“People want to protect themselves and that’s a very reasonable move,” said Li. “But when we talk about extreme overstocking behaviour, that is problematic.”
And that problem shows itself, Li said, in the emergence of a black market, full of people capitalizing on the chaos, selling toilet paper and other goods at incredibly inflated prices.
This limits availability, resulting in some people not being able to get their hands on a single square of toilet paper.
If grocery stores aren’t able to maintain stock, black market items could become a hot commodity, with prices Li estimates could be ten-fold what they are now.