Every week, we answer a common question about marketing or business. This week, we want to address one of the craziest things going on in our post-pandemic world. This week, we are going to answer that burning question on your mind: “why are people buying toilet paper in bulk?” 

Yes, seriously.

I will be the first one to admit, 2020 has been a crazy year so far. I personally like to describe it as a scooter to the shin. We could easily dedicate an entire post talking about all of the wild things that have happened so far this year. Yet in the harsh light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the strangest thing to arise is a widespread shortage of toilet paper.

What is driving this bizarre change in consumer behavior

Consumer Behavior, Meet Infectious Disease

Go into any grocery store right now and you might see a few different scenes. I personally have seen everything from empty stores that look like they’ve been ransacked to sheer pandemonium with more people than I’ve ever seen in a grocery store. Both extreme scenarios share one thing in common: completely empty toilet paper aisles. 

Factories and distributors are working 24/7 to try and meet the demand. It is pretty wild to think about how quickly life as we know it can change and shift. One of the scariest parts of all of this is how many unknowns there are.

I am not going to even begin to act like I know what is going to happen in the next few months. I do know that this shortage will not last forever and supply chains will have more TP on the shelves as soon as they are able to get it distributed. 

People are scared right now. This is a global pandemic we are talking about here. Something that I am sure you have all heard mentioned by now is the term “panic buying.” This is essentially when consumers buy unusually large amounts of a product in anticipation of, or after, a disaster or perceived disaster, or in anticipation of a large price increase or shortage. In short, this is what a ton of people are doing right now with toilet paper, which is clogging up the supply chains. 

But Why Are They Buying Toilet Paper?

So first we have people who start to panic buy, then we get people who panic hoard all of the supplies. These are the people you either hear about or see in stores fighting other people over Charmin Ultrasoft by the box.

I am going to suggest that for the sake of everyone else in your community, don’t be one of those people. Share the love, friends. It might not be immediately, but we will reach a place where we aren’t all fighting over toilet paper when they restock the grocery store shelves. 

But let’s take this one step deeper: toilet paper demand is going up because people are staying at home. The rolls you find in restaurants and offices are usually those giant ones – the kind you won’t use at home. You have a massive unused supply of commercial toilet paper while there is a massive uptick in need for residential toilet paper.

That alone might explain the shortage, but what really amped it up was the media frenzy that followed. News reports of people buying 200 rolls at Costco followed by viral tweets showing images of people doing the same. Then people started panic buying to beat the panic buyers. Panic buying begot panic buying.

Basically, you have this tiny inkling of a real supply chain problem magnified to absurd extremes by mass media.

But What Can I Do About This?

Not much. Getting your hands on white gold is a lot harder than it should be. Until then, I figured I would give you guys three alternatives to toilet paper, in case you find yourself in a tough situation… 

  1. Take a look at bidets 
  2. Wet wipes 
  3. Last resort, raid your closet and find your least favorite t-shirt and say goodbye. 

Final Thoughts

These are truly absurd times we are living in. Never did I think I would find myself writing a piece on the current state of the nation’s TP shortage, but that is life, I guess. Things will eventually return to normal, and when they do, please, please, please don’t run out and buy all the toilet paper up. I’m almost out of paperbacks I didn’t like.

Until then: stay safe, stay healthy.