New research from university researchers has found that while Australia was one of the world’s best responders to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was also the world’s worst offenders when it came to panic-buying.
The news comes after two University of New South Wales researchers, Professor Mike Keane and Dr Tim Neal created what’s been called the ‘panic index’, which used real-time search data between January and April across 54 different countries.
According to the results of the panic index, Australia outpaced its rivals when it came to panic buying household staples at the supermarket, with the authors stating that it peaked in March. This caused sales of canned soup to jump 180%, a doubling of toilet paper sales and shortages of staples like pasta, rice and flour.
The authors noted that panic buying was a worldwide phenomenon, but Australia took the cake on a per capita basis when it came to overstocking shelves in the household.
“The experience of Australia is notable for the incredible speed and scale with which panic [buying] took hold in early March,” they said. “Unlike in other countries, the escalation in panic does not appear to correspond with any significant increase in domestic COVID-19 cases.”
Reports state that “so extreme was domestic panic buying, the researchers had to modify the graphs in their paper to show the extent of Australians’ efforts to find sought-after goods.”
Both Dr Neal and Professor Keane warned of the potential implications of panic buying and stripping shelves bare. “Shortages created by panic buying also force consumers to devote extra time and effort to shopping, diverting time away from welfare-improving activities like work, leisure, and sleep, as well as generating psychological costs by inducing anxiety and stress,” they said.
Andrew Hughes, a marketing lecturer at the Australian National University said Australia’s panic buying rate was most likely driven by a fear of missing out on essential goods, otherwise known as FOMO.
“Once one person misses out on something, the FOMO principle kicks in. In this day and age, once people think they are going to miss out on something, it triggers a fear that they’ll miss out on it.”
“It could be an iPhone or it could be toilet paper,” he added.
The National Australia Bank earlier this week released its measure of online shopping which detailed a 16.2% rise in the number of online sales for the month of April; the largest monthly increase recorded. What’s more interesting is that NAB noted there has been an annual increase of 58.5% in online sales, the largest recorded figure in Australian history.