Panic buyers force corporate stores to take precautionary measures
Managing News Editor
In the eye of a pandemic, through government disorganization and unmitigated virus concerns, there is seemingly a running relationship between consumers and large-scale companies.
When faced with an emergency, a subset of the population invests in a concept extremely particular to that of the current near-national emergency that America is facing at the moment: panic buying.
The action itself takes place when individuals buy large amounts of supposedly-needed products due to latent fears of item shortages or price gouging by stores. It has been a common occurrence and the selling-out of products only seems to foster a cycle of more panic purchasing.
The world, not simply the nation at large, is in something of a deadlock. Coronavirus, once viewed as a Wuhan, China-reserved ailment, had its first confirmed case in the United States on Jan. 20 of this year.
Since then, if one goes into any grocery or combination grocery-retail store such as Target, there is a chance that one would be faced with a surprising amount of emptiness on certain racks.
For perspective’s sake, a standard package of toilet paper from Costco has 30 rolls, with 425 sheets per roll, adding up to 12,750 sheets per package. In a Twitter photo posted of this “toilet paper math,” an individual calculated how many times somebody would have to use the bathroom to make use of a purchase of four Costco packages of toilet paper. If somebody used 20 sheets of toilet paper per bathroom trip, they would have to use the restroom 182 times a day to actually make use of their panic buy over the course of their 14-day quarantine.
Sandra Cabrera, 22, is a graduating senior attending Goldey-Beacom College, once commuting daily from Oxford, Pennsylvania to Wilmington, Delaware to attend her classes. Ever since Delaware universities made the jump to move online, she has solely been making the 40-minute trek to Delaware for her shifts at Target, where she has worked as a Flexible Fulfillment member since Aug. 2018.
Before the panic that the pandemic elicited, Cabrera said that employees did not receive any initial guidelines to combat panic-buyers and hoarders. That changed around two weeks ago, where stark limitations on the purchasing of sanitization products were put into place.
Customers went from benefitting from a free-for-all in-store to a constraint of only six items per individual on wares such as hand sanitizer and hand wipes. That quickly turned into a harsher limitation which was decreased to one item per customer as of around one week ago, according to Cabrera.
Before this limitation took effect, Cabrera said she saw a woman buy 27 individual pocket hand wipes.
“It’s been pretty hectic,” Cabrera said. “It first started off with the hand sanitizers. It’s been about three weeks now that they have pretty much not had it in stock, [and] any time it comes in, it just sells immediately.”
Around that same time, CNN reported “the novel coronavirus has killed more than 3,000 people worldwide.” Most of those cases were found on mainland China, but the website noted that there were over 88,000 global cases at the time. Those numbers have nearly quadrupled since then.
With that, the panic seems to have inflated as well.
“It moved to the Lysol wipes, that whole wall was empty,” Cabrera went on to say. “And then it moved to toilet paper and toiletries … the shampoo and [shower] essentials, and recently it’s been the food. Any kind of canned food, pasta, even the meats are gone.”
Cabrera noted that Target’s guests have been asking workers when their next shipments will arrive, but at this point, it’s “pretty much first come, first serve.”
Normally, as items arrive at around 4:00 a.m., workers take inventory during the opening shift and set products out on the floor and on shelves. Recently, there have been lines outside of the store beginning prior to 8:00 a.m., when the Target at the Christiana Mall location formally opens.
The location in question goes out of stock of these sanitizing and cleaning items almost instantaneously, as soon as the doors open, so workers are constantly requesting new shipments. Cabrera said they receive a standard of three to five boxes of a needed item per shipment, which is enough to restock and keep a small reserve in the back, “but at the rate it’s been selling, it’s impossible” to maintain any product on the shelves.
Customers are reminded constantly in-store that the limitation is down to one sanitary item per guest via 8 inch by 11 inch pieces of paper taped to racks that were normally full pre-virus. They are also reminded at checkout of the limit if they somehow make it there with an abundance of packs of toilet paper in their carts, and online orders have defaulted to only one item per customer as well.
Hours have not been cut at Target, as the corporation benefits from not only selling retail items but grocery selections as well, meaning they won’t be victims of a forced-close for the foreseeable future. Cabrera said the store was actually offering more hours with workers’ children being out of school; managers add available staff to call-in lists and are understanding when parents have to call out in order to take care of their kids.
Cabrera initially didn’t buy into the panic hype.
“Actually, with the hand sanitizer at first, I was like ‘You know, maybe people are just freaking out and overreacting,’” Cabrera mused. “And then I started seeing the shelves just go empty with the wipes, and even the water. There’s no water.”
She said she has since been stocking up and now has reserves of extra water, canned food and extra toilet paper. Some items were bought from her workplace before the limitations were put in effect, but said a lot has been from external stores, wherever she could find the item she was looking for.
“I’ll keep working, unless I get sick,” Cabrera said. “Another thing is if [people] are asked to not travel … Even though I do work at Target, I live in PA, so I would not want to get stuck in Delaware.”
The situation raises questions on how these retail workers will be navigating their world for the near future. When asked what may happen if the store did have to shut down, Cabrera said while she wasn’t sure of the actual plan, she does hope that the corporation would help out its workers in terms of paid leave because a lot of their staff depend on their wages.
“It would affect me on a more personal level if they asked us not to work or cut our hours, then it’s like ‘How do I pay my bills, how do I move,’” Cabrera said. “But as far as affecting me on a deeper level, not yet, I do have a small car and [gas is] affordable, so I should be good.”