Who are the stockpilers, and why do we do it?

Though the world has changed rapidly in the last few months, there is another factor that has changed just as swiftly — our ability to adapt to our new lifestyles and hunker down in our homes. In order to do that, people need to be sufficiently stocked and prepared. But some of us have gone to the extreme of stockpiling and hoarding, to the extend that photos of empty shelves are circulating across social media. Supermarkets are clamping down with restrictions on how many units of an item consumers can buy in one sitting.

But who among us is stockpiling? Are we anxious, or, as many on social media condemn it as, greedy? We take a look at the data to find out.

Who is buying?

According to data from Fulcare, wholesale supplier of janitorial products, items that are noted as protectants against viruses have certainly spiked in the first quarter of 2020 than in the first quarter of 2019. People are buying up cleaning items, such as blue roll and disinfectant sprays, in an effort to prepare their homes. The top products flying off the shelves include hand sanitiser, toilet roll, and medical face masks, with hand sanitiser products taking three of the top five slots.

Compared to March 2019, March 2020 has seen a dramatic 941% increase in sales of the above products. But, more interestingly, the store notes that the people buying up these products has shifted dramatically too.

Perhaps surprisingly, it appears as though the youngest and the oldest generations, Generation Z and the Silent Generation, are the groups that are stockpiling the most, shown by the huge increase of 379% and 201% respectively, in sales compared to this time last year.

As we all know, elderly people are considered to be higher-risk in the event of an outbreak, so the sales increase for this generation is not so shocking. But with media headlines damning the younger generation as thinking they are invincible and not taking it seriously, do these sales figures dispute those claims? Are Generation Z taking this as seriously as their elders, and more seriously than their parents after all? And why?

Consumer reaction

According to Google, 96% of Generation Z are concerned about the spread of the coronavirus. In comparison, 90% of boomers are concerned. The difference is much more pronounced when we consider those who are very concerned, however, with 60% of Generation Z admitting to being very concerned compared to only 40% of boomers.

So, what are people most worried about? Well, according to Google’s research, the top concerns are:

  1. How fast the virus is spreading.
  2. Not having a vaccine yet.
  3. Whether their friends, family, or high-risk groups could get infected.

Surprisingly, finances only worried 20% of people, with this number dropping to 10% of Generation Z. This lack of concern over finances may be why people are happy to spend more in order to prepare, or indeed, stockpile.

What are the younger generation worried about?

While much about the coronavirus remains uncertain, there is an agreement that the virus is certainly more of a risk to older people and those with underlying health conditions. There have, therefore, been a number of older people rightly voicing their concern about others stockpiling — especially younger people. To them, it seems selfish; they considered the younger generation not only to be less at risk, but more able to head down to the shops to pick up items every now and then, rather than ordering one huge home delivery to tide them over for months.

It’s an understandable frustration. But while young people are less at risk, that doesn’t mean the virus won’t skip them over. Plus, being a potential carrier might not be fatal for a younger person, but it could be to their elderly relatives. They are protecting themselves to protect others. But are they going about it the right way? Why is stockpiling the route young people seem to have taken along with the older generation?

As Jessica Beard of the Telegraph points out, millennials and Generation Z in particular have never lived through anything like this. They were either too young or not even born when the SARS pandemic spread across the world from 2002¬–2004 — SARS is another type of coronavirus that, although claimed less lives, had a higher death rate than Covid-19, as well as a similar level of contagiousness. Unlike Covid-19, however, SARS lacked the persistence to thrive within the human body and fizzled out in 2003.

Some millennials will remember the 2009 outbreak of H1N1, which resulted in a similar panic due to a novel virus emerging with no vaccine available. Once a vaccine was created, the outbreak died down by the end of 2010.

Still, if the young adults of today remember anything of these outbreaks, it will be the panic and confusion that surrounded them. As Beard points out, bulk buying is one way that people can feel like they are physically doing something to prepare and “fix” the problem, giving the person a sense of control against an uncontrollable situation.

“In a crisis, we all have a duty to act responsibly,” Beard says. “But we can’t blame people for getting scared.”

It’s clear then that the stockpiling problem seems to fall at both ends of age groups — the very youngest generation and the very oldest. But where the oldest are stockpiling to prepare for a long time indoors to protect themselves as a high-risk group, the younger generation is following suit for a very different reason: simply, they’re scared and have never been through anything like this before. It’s important to prepare and keep some stocks within the house, such as tinned food and essentials, but stockpiling can have dangerous knock-on effects for a community. Buy what you need, but don’t be tempted to over-purchase. Look out for your neighbours and stay home. This is not the first nor the last pandemic the world will see, nor is it the first or last that the world will overcome.