On my regular trip to the supermarket yesterday, there was not a single roll of toilet paper to be found.
It's something I'd never seen before, and while I like to think I'm a rational person, it sent me into a panic.
What made things worse was that when I went to another supermarket — which thankfully had supplies — the attendant had hoarded three large packets behind the counter.
She's not alone. Fears related to coronavirus have sent the country into a toilet paper-buying frenzy.
When I walked away from the supermarket with 36 rolls myself, I wondered: why have panic-buying Australians been so focused on toilet paper rather than other essentials, like food?
And why do we feel compelled to stock up when we see empty shelves?
Here's what two retail experts have to say.
Why there's no toilet paper on your supermarket shelves
Gary Mortimer, a retail expert and professor at QUT, says there are two main reasons supermarkets are running low on toilet paper.
Supermarkets tend to operate with what's called "just in time" inventory. In other words, they don't like to have big stockpiles of goods like toilet paper hanging around.
They usually get deliveries each day, with just enough stock to hold them over to the next delivery, Dr Mortimer says.
"If we think about toilet paper, it tends to be light and bulky, which means supermarkets can only hold 100-250 packets in one aisle," he says.
"If just half a dozen or a dozen people buy extra packets, suddenly the demand lifts very quickly and it's hard to keep that stock on the shelf."
As a result, you can quickly end up with empty shelves.
"I think toilet paper is a necessity, and it's hard to imagine living without it … that's a psychological driver," says Jana Bowden, an associate professor of marketing at Macquarie University.
"Another aspect is just the level of fear that has been perpetuated by stories in the media of what is happening in other countries.
"So we have situations in Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan, and there's been news and reports on toilet paper shortages there.
"It's been a topic of media conversation, and consumers are watching what is happening around the world with the coronavirus, and we are taking psychological cues and signals from these other international markets."
But you don't need to worry about supply
There's nothing to suggest we're about to run out of toilet paper.
Most of Australia's toilet paper is made in South Australia, and if it weren't for hoarding, it's unlikely we'd be having any problems. That's the message from Dr Bowden.
"From a supply perspective, it's completely irrational," she says.
"Technically we have very good supply. We have a major Australian manufacturer based in South Australia."
And while there have been moves to put limits on supermarket purchases, the problem is largely the panic-buying — not issues with supply.
"We have enough supply in the pipeline to satisfy the Australian market, but they are clearly struggling with the issue of replacement," Dr Bowden says.
How 'herd behaviour' is driving the toilet paper panic
Another part of the toilet paper panic can be explained by crowd psychology.
When we see other people doing something, we feel like we should be doing that, too.
It's what psychologists call 'herd behaviour', and it happened when I saw the supermarket attendant stockpiling toilet paper behind the counter.
"If you see someone buying something, and you don't buy that, and it's then unavailable, you can feel buyer's remorse," Dr Bowden says.
"We saw a lot of that when face masks were first starting to go out of stock, and the same thing is happening with toilet paper.
"It's the idea that if you don't buy it now, you will miss the opportunity to acquire that product and you may not have that opportunity again."
So what can you do?
"Despite it being difficult to do, you need to think rationally about your purchase," Dr Mortimer says.
"If you would normally go through four toilet rolls a week, maybe buy eight, because that covers two weeks. You don't need 64 rolls.
"If you're a little bit concerned about being able to access products, jump online with one of the supermarkets, place your order and have the products delivered to your home."
It's a sentiment echoed by Dr Bowden.
"It's easier said than done, but try not to fall into the trap of the 'fear of missing out'. We can be assured that the supply of toilet paper in particular is stable, according to the manufacturers," she says.
"It is easy to go to the supermarket, see other people buying it, and feel like you have to have it. But just have the basic necessities. There's no need to stockpile."
|Period||4 Mar 2020|
Title Coronavirus COVID-19: Why is everyone buying toilet paper? Media name/outlet ABC Life online Country/Territory Australia Date 4/03/20 Producer/Author Patrick Wright URL https://www.abc.net.au/life/coronavirus-covid-19-why-is-everyone-buying-toilet-paper/12024738 Persons Jana Bowden